Researchers Transform IR Wavelengths into Visible Light

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College Park, Md., Dec. 25, 2019 — Researchers have designed a new chip-integrated light source that can transform infrared wavelengths into visible wavelengths, which have been difficult to produce with technology based on silicon chips. This flexible approach to on-chip light generation is poised to enable highly miniaturized photonic instrumentation that is easy to manufacture and rugged enough to use outside the lab.

Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the University of Maryland, and the University of Colorado described their new optical parametric oscillator (OPO) light source in OSA’s journal Optica, illustrating how the device can produce output light that is a different color, or wavelength, than the input light. In addition to creating light at visible wavelengths, the OPO simultaneously generates near-infrared wavelengths that can be used for telecommunication applications.

“Our power-efficient and flexible approach generates coherent laser light across a range of wavelengths wider than what is accessible from direct chip-integrated lasers,” said Kartik Srinivasan, research team leader. “The on-chip creation of visible light can be used as part of highly functional compact devices such as chip-based atomic clocks or devices for portable biochemical analyses. Developing the OPO in a silicon photonics platform creates the potential for scalable manufacturing of these devices in commercial fabrication foundries, which could make this approach very cost-effective.”

Although the response of a material to light typically scales linearly, material properties can change more rapidly in response to light at high power, which creates various nonlinear effects. OPOs are a type of laser that use nonlinear optical effects to create a very broad range of output wavelengths.

The goal for the researchers was to figure out how to take laser emission at a wavelength readily available with compact chip lasers and combine it with nonlinear nanophotonics to generate laser light at wavelengths otherwise hard to reach with silicon photonics platforms.

“Nonlinear optical technologies are already used as integral components of lasers in the world’s best atomic clocks and many laboratory spectroscopy systems,” said Xiyuan Lu, first author of the paper and a NIST-University of Maryland postdoctoral scholar. “Being able to access different types of nonlinear optical functionality, including OPOs, within integrated photonics is important for transitioning technologies currently based in laboratories into platforms that are portable and can be deployed in the field.”

The researchers designed an OPO based on a microring made from silicon nitride. This optical component is fed by approximately 1 mW of infrared laser power, approximately the same amount of power found in a laser pointer. As the light travels around the microring, it increases in optical intensity until it is powerful enough to create a nonlinear optical response in silicon nitride. This enables frequency conversion, a nonlinear process that can be used to produce an output wavelength, or frequency, that is different from that of the light going into the system.

“Recent progress in nanophotonic engineering has made this method of frequency conversion very efficient,” said Lu. “A key advance in our work was figuring out how to promote the specific nonlinear interaction of interest while suppressing potential competing nonlinear processes that can arise in this system.”

The researchers designed the new on-chip light source using detailed electromagnetic simulations. The device was used to convert 900-nm input light to 700-nm-wavelength (visible) and 1300-nm-wavelength (telecommunications) bands. The OPO accomplished this using less than 2% of the pump laser power required by previously reported microresonator OPOs developed for generating widely separated output colors. With a few changes to the microring dimensions, the OPO also produced light in the 780-nm visible and 1500-nm telecommunication bands.

The researchers said that the new OPO could be used to make a complete system by combining an inexpensive commercial near-infrared diode laser with an OPO chip that also integrates components such as filters, detectors, and a spectroscopy section. The team also said they will be continuing to look for ways to increase the output power generated from the OPO.

“This work demonstrates that nonlinear nanophotonics is reaching a level of maturity where we can create a design that connects widely separated wavelengths and then achieve enough fabrication control to realize that design, and the predicted performance, in practice,” said Srinivasan. “Going forward, it should be possible to generate a wide range of desired wavelengths using a small number of compact chip lasers combined with flexible and versatile nonlinear nanophotonics.”

Published: December 2019
optical parametric oscillator
A laser-pumped crystal with nonlinear optical properties inside of an optical resonator in which the output generates coherent light whose output can be tuned continuously over a variety of infrared and visible wavelengths. The OPO generates a short wavelength component called the signal and a longer wavelength component called the idler. Conservation of energy dictates that the sum of the photon energy of the signal and that of the idler equals the original pump photon energy.
Nanophotonics is a branch of science and technology that explores the behavior of light on the nanometer scale, typically at dimensions smaller than the wavelength of light. It involves the study and manipulation of light using nanoscale structures and materials, often at dimensions comparable to or smaller than the wavelength of the light being manipulated. Aspects and applications of nanophotonics include: Nanoscale optical components: Nanophotonics involves the design and fabrication of...
Research & TechnologyOSAnear-infrared wavelengthsNISToptical parametric oscillatornanophotonicsLight SourcesLasersCommunicationssilicon photonics

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