Electrical engineers have devised a new laser for on-chip optical connections that could give computers a huge boost in speed and energy efficiency.

At just 2 micrometers in height — smaller than the width of a human hair — the surface-emitting laser's vastly lower profile could make it cheaper and easier for manufacturers to integrate high-speed optical data connections into the microprocessors powering the next generation of computers.

Traditionally, edge-emitter lasers are considered as the candidate for on-chip optical links. But since mirrors are hard to form in such lasers and because the lasers occupy a large chip area, researchers have been challenged to find a practical way to monolithically integrate the mirrors on silicon chips.

Surface-emitting lasers necessary for a high-speed optical links between computer cores could be 20 to 30 micrometers tall, slightly bigger than one hole in the mesh of a car's oil filter. Yet the research team's engineers say that on a 1.5-micrometer wavelength optically connected chip, lasers of that size dwarf their silicon surroundings.

As a solution, the researchers propose replacing layers and layers of reflectors necessary in the traditional distributed Bragg reflector laser design with two highly reflective photonic crystal mirrors. Composed of compound semiconductor quantum well materials, each mirror is held in place with silicon nanomembranes, extremely thin layers of a silicon.

One layer of photonic crystal is equal to about 15 to 30 layers of dielectric reflectors found in conventional lasers. As a result, manufacturers could fabricate 2-micrometer-high lasers for data links with performance that could equal current designs.

This story is reprinted from material from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.