The world's smallest nanolaser is thinner than a strand of hair

Researchers at the Australian National University have developed microscopic lasers that are efficient and smaller than the wavelength of light they themselves produce when energized. For comparison, such lasers are thinner than the width of a human hair.

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Called nanolasers, they are more powerful than conventional lasers and can be used in smaller scale devices, such as a computer chip, in surgical, industrial and military equipment or even in the manufacture of printers more accurate and night surveillance systems.

“These nanolasers can be integrated into an electronic circuit, which is important for photonics at the nanoscale. For example, they can be mounted directly on the tip of an optical fiber to illuminate or operate at a specific point within a human body,” explains physics professor Yuri Kivshar, lead author of the study.

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Game of mirrors

To modify conventional lasers, which normally use light amplification devices between two mirrors, the researchers used a trick based on the discovery of quantum mechanics, made by Hungarian scientists Eugene Wigner and John von Neumann almost 100 years ago.

Scheme of the structure that retains energy leakage (Image: Reproduction/ANU)

As the light bounces back and forth between the two mirrors, it is amplified during each pass through the device, becoming brighter and brighter. In place of the mirrors, the team created equipment that works as noise-canceling headphones to retain energy and prevent it from escaping.

“We created a periodic structure designed in this way. that the different modes of vibration of light waves cancel each other out at the edges of the device. This trapped energy can be accumulated in a strong, well-formed laser, overcoming the challenge of energy leakage from nanolasers,” adds Kivshar.

By chance

The idea came up while a student was experimenting with microwave radiation. Upon analyzing the data, they found that there was interference in the energy leakage in all directions and not just in the direction of propagation of the radiation emitted by the laser.

Lasers are thinner than a strand of hair (Image: Playback/ANU)

With this, they were able to obtain the cancellation of this radiation according to the wavelength, adjusting only the properties of the matrix of the material used and correcting imperfections during the manufacturing process. The result was an almost perfect device, capable of restricting 50,9% of the propagated light.

“The efficiency of the device was high as only a small amount of energy was needed to start the laser glow. In addition, we hit a size limit 40 times smaller than any previously reported nanolaser. It is gratifying to develop a practical device, almost 1024 years after the discovery of the concept of quantum mechanics”, celebrates Professor Yuri Kivshar.

Source: Australian National University

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