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Signal Mixer Made from Laser

Photonics.com
Mar 2009
CHAMPAIGN, Ill., March 20, 2009 – A microwave signal mixer has been made from a tunnel-junction transistor laser, an achievement that brings higher speed electronics and higher performance electrical and optical integrated circuits closer to development, its creators say.

The device accepts two electrical inputs and produces an optical signal that was measured at frequencies of up to 22.7 GHz. The frequency range was limited by the bandwidth of the detector employed in the measurements, not by the transistor device.
feng-holonyak.jpg
University of Illinois electrical engineers Milton Feng (left) and Nick Holonyak Jr. (Photo: L. Brian Stauffer)
“In addition to the usual current-modulation capability, the tunnel junction provides an enhanced means for voltage-controlled modulation of the photon output of the transistor laser,” said Nick Holonyak Jr., a John Bardeen chair professor of electrical and computer engineering and physics at the University of Illinois. “This offers new capabilities and a much greater sensitivity for unique signal-mixing and signal-processing applications.”

Three years ago, during stimulated emission tests of a transistor laser, the researchers reported that they had coaxed it to reveal previously unknown fundamental properties, a breakthrough they said would speed commercialization of the device. (See: Engineers Coax Secrets from Transistor Lasers)

To make the device, they placed a quantum well inside the base region of a transistor laser, which combines the functions of both a transistor and a laser by converting electrical input signals into two output signals, one electrical and one optical. Photons for the optical signal are generated when electrons and holes recombine in the base, an intrinsic feature of transistors. Then they created a tunnel junction within the collector region.

“Within the transistor laser, the tunneling process occurs predominantly through a process called photon-assisted absorption,” said Milton Feng, the Holonyak chair professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The tunneling process begins in the quantum well, where electrons and holes combine and generate photons, Feng said. Those photons are then reabsorbed to create new pairs of electrons and holes used for voltage modulation.

“The tunnel junction makes it possible to annihilate an electron in the quantum well, and then tunnel an electron out to the collector by the tunnel contact,” Feng said.

The transistor output is sensitive to third-terminal voltage control because of the electrons tunneling from the base to the collector, which also creates an efficient supply of holes to the quantum well for recombination.

“This is a new type of transistor,” said Holonyak, who also is a professor in the university’s Center for Advanced Study, one of the highest forms of campus recognition. “We are using the photon internally to modify the electrical operation and make the transistor itself a different device with additional properties.”

High-speed signal mixing, for example, is made possible by the nonlinear coupling of the internal optical field to the base electron-hole recombination, minority carrier emitter-to-collector transport, and the base-to-collector electron tunneling at the collector junction, the researchers report.

The sensitivity of the tunnel-junction transistor laser to voltage control enables the device to be directly modulated by both current and voltage. This flexibility facilitates the design of new nonlinear signal processing devices for improved optical power output.

“The metamorphosis of the transistor is not yet complete,” Holonyak said. “We’re still working on it, and the transistor is still changing.”

The fabrication and operation of the mixing device is described in the March 13 issue of the journal Applied Physics Letters. Co-authors of the paper are graduate research assistant and lead author Han Wui Then, graduate student Hsin-Yu Wu and senior research scientist Gabriel Walter.

For more information, visit: www.uiuc.edu


GLOSSARY
optical
Pertaining to optics and the phenomena of light.
photon
A quantum of electromagnetic energy of a single mode; i.e., a single wavelength, direction and polarization. As a unit of energy, each photon equals hn, h being Planck's constant and n, the frequency of the propagating electromagnetic wave. The momentum of the photon in the direction of propagation is hn/c, c being the speed of light.
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
transistor
An electronic device consisting of a semiconductor material, generally germanium or silicon, and used for rectification, amplification and switching. Its mode of operation utilizes transmission across the junction of the donor electrons and holes.
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