The new work centers on miniaturizing mode-lock lasers — a unique laser that emits a train of ultrashort, coherent light pulses in femtosecond intervals, which is an astonishing quadrillionth of a second.
Ultrafast mode-locked lasers are indispensable to unlocking the secrets of the fastest timescales in nature, such as the making or breaking of molecular bonds during chemical reactions, or light propagation in a turbulent medium. The high-speed, pulse-peak intensity and broad-spectrum coverage of mode-locked lasers have also enabled numerous photonics technologies, including optical atomic clocks, biological imaging, and computers that use light to calculate and process data.
Unfortunately, state-of-the-art mode-locked lasers are currently expensive, power-demanding tabletop systems that are limited to laboratory use.
"Our goal is to revolutionize the field of ultrafast photonics by transforming large lab-based systems into chip-sized ones that can be mass produced and field deployed," said Guo, a faculty member with the CUNY Advance Science Research Center's Photonics Initiative and a physics professor at the CUNY Graduate Center. "Not only do we want to make things smaller, but we also want to ensure that these ultrafast chip-sized lasers deliver satisfactory performances. For example, we need enough pulse-peak intensity, preferably over 1 Watt, to create meaningful chip-scale systems."
Realizing an effective mode-locked laser on a chip is not a straightforward process, however. Guo's research leverages an emerging material platform known as thin-film lithium niobate (TFLN). This material enables very efficient shaping and precise control of laser pulses by applying an external radio frequency electrical signal. In their experiments, Guo's team uniquely combined the high laser gain of III-V semiconductors and the efficient pulse shaping capability of TFLN nanoscale photonic waveguides to demonstrate a laser that can emit a high output peak power of 0.5 Watt.