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Photonics Spectra
Since 1967, Photonics Spectra magazine has defined the science and industry of photonics, providing both technical and practical information for every aspect of the global industry and promoting an international dialogue among the engineers, scientists and end users who develop, commercialize and buy photonics products. Stay current with a FREE subscription to the digital or print edition.

Latest Issue
Dec 2018

VCSELs, contrary to convention

It’s easy to be impressed by a killer app. Apple’s iPhone X, for example, is equipped with a TrueDepth camera and Face ID, which are creating new baselines in biometric security. ExtremeTech describes how TrueDepth works: “[It] starts with a traditional 7 MP front-facing ‘selfie’ camera. It adds an infrared emitter that projects over 30,000 dots in a known pattern onto the user’s face. Those dots are then photographed by a dedicated infrared camera for analysis. There is a proximity sensor, [and] an ambient light sensor helps the system set output light levels.”

The sophisticated enabling technology behind Face ID is the VCSEL (vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser), used in arrays, transmitting huge amounts of data with ultralow power at low cost.

I’m impressed by the technology, of course, but not blinded. I’m equally curious to know about the early sparks that led to an idea for a laser that operates contrary to convention. A VCSEL beam — unlike traditional edge-emitting lasers — emits perpendicular to the top surface. The thinking, like the photons, diverged.

Rarely is it possible to trace the history of contrary ideas, or any ideas; they do not emerge smoothly from an unbroken chain of events. Instead, they erupt, flow, confront, emerge. In German, the word entstehung loosely translates as “formation” or “genesis,” but it also carries connotations of the messy interplay necessary for ideas to mature.

Beyond the first spark, the researchers, scientists, and explorers involved in the decadeslong maturation of an idea persist. From my desk in Massachusetts, I have a vision of their persistence; I imagine notes, sketches, equations, late-night conversations — a slow “turning over of stones” and a ferment that has evolved into today’s fast and powerful technology.

When considering VCSELs, here are a few names to know, visionaries who persisted — implicit in the ferment.

Ivars Melngailis. Kenichi Iga. Larry Coldren. Sam McCall. Axel Scherer. Jack Jewell. Jim Tatum.

Click here to learn how their contrary laser is impacting us today.

Mike Wheeler
An accomplished journalist and editor, Michael Wheeler oversees Photonic Media's editorial operations, spanning print, online, and video. He also serves as editor of Vision Spectra, chronicling advances in the rapidly expanding machine vision/inspection sector.
Chris Bergonzi
Managing Editor Chris Bergonzi has more than 35 years of experience editing, managing, and writing for consumer publications and peer-reviewed journals covering business, management, technology, and science.
Susan Petrie
Susan Petrie is Senior Editor of Photonics Spectra and has two decades of experience with print and digital publications. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Bennington College.
Justine Murphy
Senior Editor Justine Murphy is an award-winning journalist with 20 years of experience in newspaper and magazine publishing, marketing, and public relations. She is editor of EuroPhotonics and BioPhotonics and produces industry-focused podcasts.
Autum Pylant
News Editor Autum C. Pylant is an Air Force Veteran with 10+ years of award-winning broadcast journalism experience. She is responsible for the steady flow of news and new product announcements to web and print and is the producer of the Light Matters video.
Robin Riley
Multimedia/Web Editor Robin Riley has 30+ years of experience in communications and marketing for a range of technical industries. She is a regular contributor to web content and social media, and organizes and produces custom and editorial webinars.
Valerie Coffey
Science writer Valerie C. Coffey holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s in astronomy. She has covered optics, photonics, physics, and astronomy for a variety of industry and academic publications since 2000.
Hank Hogan
Contributing Editor Hank Hogan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the University of Texas at Austin. He worked in the semiconductor industry and now writes about science and technology.
Marie Freebody
Contributing Editor Marie Freebody is a freelance science and technology journalist with a master’s degree in physics and a concentration in nuclear astrophysics from the University of Surrey in England.
Faroow Ahmed Freebody
Farooq Ahmed has covered the physical and biological sciences for over a decade. He has a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Brown University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Columbia University.
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