A History of the VCSEL

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Sixty years ago this month, Theodore H. Maiman, a physicist at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, Calif., constructed the first laser using a cylinder of synthetic ruby and photographic flash lamps. There have been many milestones in the last six decades. In honor of this breakthrough, Photonics Media will be running periodic coverage throughout the month.

TOKYO, May 18, 2020 — The VCSEL (vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser) was invented in 1977 by Kenichi Iga. VCSELs are used in myriad applications, such as cellphone security, optical communication, computer mice, gas sensing, optical clocks, laser pumping, and others. Iga was awarded the 2013 Franklin Institute Awards’ Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science for the conception and development of the VCSEL and its multiple applications in optoelectronics.

In 1989, Jack Jewell was able to demonstrate over one million VCSELs on a single chip at Bell Laboratories, a feat developed from his doctoral work under Hyatt Gibbs between 1980 and 1984. In that work he used nonlinear optical properties of GaAs to make all-optical logic gates that could be used in an optical computer, Jewell wrote in Photonics Spectra last June.

VCSELs are semiconductor laser diodes with a monolithic laser resonator that emits light in a direction perpendicular to the chip surface. The resonator consists of two semiconductor Bragg mirrors, between which is an active region with several quantum wells. Many varieties of VCSELs have been developed for various uses, and their unique properties make them advantageous, such as their ability to be operated at higher temperatures that might increase the risk of catastrophic facet failure.

Published: May 2020
Research & TechnologyLasersVCSELLaser 60th anniversarysemiconductors

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