Working in collaboration with the Lionix company, researchers from the University of Twente’s MESA+ research institute have developed the world’s most narrowband diode laser on a chip. This laser represents a breakthrough in the fast-growing field of photonics, and will bring applications like 5G internet and accurate GPS closer. Research leader Professor Klaus Boller presented the research results during a scientific conference in Munich.
We are slowly reaching the bounds of what is possible with electronics. That is why scientists and the private sector are committed to photonics — a key technology that makes numerous other innovations possible. This involves the deployment of photons (light particles) for transporting and processing data.
For photonic chips to function as efficiently as possible, one has to be able to properly control the light signals. This means that all the light particles being transmitted must have, as closely as possible, the same frequency — that is, the same colour. The University of Twente researchers have managed to develop a minuscule laser on a chip with a maximum bandwidth (the maximum uncertainty of frequency) of just 290 Hertz. By some distance, this is the most accurate laser on a chip that has ever been created. Boller: “Our signal is more than ten times more coherent — or clean — than any other laser on a chip.”
The newly-developed laser is tunable, which means that users can choose the colour of the laser themselves, within a broad range. The device is a hybrid laser, which means that it essentially consists of two different photonic chips, optically connected to each other.
Photonics in Twente
The record laser will bring countless applications within reach, such as controlling movable antennae on phone masts for 5G mobile internet, faster data flows through glass fiber networks, or more accurate GPS systems and sensors for monitoring the structural integrity of buildings and bridges.
Twente in the Netherlands is one of the world’s leading regions when it comes to photonics, which is becoming an industry worth billions given that the technology is the key to large numbers of applications. The region is, for exampole, the birthplace of the TriPleX technology — one of the most important standards for photonic chips. At the heart of Twente’s strong position is the deep expertise and strong chemistry between all stakeholders. The entire innovation chain is here and cooperation is intense: from fundamental science in a variety of core domains to firms that rank among the world’s best when it comes to development, production, and the integration of components.
The research was carried out by Youwen Fan and Klaus Boller of the Laser Physics and Nonlinear Optics department at the University of Twente MESA+ research institute, Applied Nanophotonics, in collaboration with Ruud Oldenbeuving, Chris Roeloffzen, Marcel Hoekman, Dimitri Geskus, and René Heideman of the company LioniX International.