MEMS laser: Lighting up spectroscopy and telecoms

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  • Published: Mar 15, 2014
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: Atomic
thumbnail image: MEMS laser: Lighting up spectroscopy and telecoms

Fine tuning

Researchers have demonstrated the smallest wavelength-tunable laser built with microelectromechanical system (MEMS) technology. The device could have wide-ranging applications in telecommunications technology and spectroscopy. (Prof Liu Ai Qun from NTU website)

Researchers have demonstrated the smallest wavelength-tuneable laser built with microelectromechanical system (MEMS) technology. The device could have wide-ranging applications in telecommunications technology and spectroscopy.

A new tuneable laser developed in Singapore could give telecommunications providers a way to deliver bandwidth-on-demand at lower cost. The device developed by researchers at A*STAR’s Institute of Microelectronics (IME) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have used MEMS to demonstrate the smallest wavelength-tuneable laser featuring a wide tuning range for high-speed data packet delivery. The team points out that having one laser that can operate at a range of wavelengths would greatly simplify the technical infrastructure and cut inventory and operational costs. Of course, such a device would also have applications in analytical science and diagnostics.

Widespread integration

Consumer and commercial demand for ever faster internet connectivity requires ever faster technology to keep pace with that demand. Service providers must repeatedly upgrade the architecture of their fibre optic communications networks using advanced wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) networks using conventional single wavelength laser sources. This costly, time-intensive, energy-inefficient and slows the logistical roll out of faster broadband. Currently available tuneable lasers would solve this problem if it were not for the fact that their multiple component set-up makes them bulky and so unsuitable for widespread integration into those networks.

Microchip laser

The collaborators at IME and NTU think their work, which demonstrates an on-chip integrated laser, circumvents many of the problems, being the smallest tuneable laser fabricated by MEMS. The laser can span a wavelength range of 1531.2 to 1579.5 nanometres, in the near-infrared region of the spectrum, which is appropriate for fibre optic communications. Moreover, compared to lasers of the external cavity design, this new devices has a significantly improved coupling efficiency of 75 percent, as opposed to 50 percent. The team also points out that fabrication is more streamlined than other devices in development and amenable to mass production and integration into high-density photonic circuits.

IME's Cai Hong, project leader, explains the technology: "Our laser exploits the superior light converging ability of the rod lens and parabolic mirror of the 3D micro-coupling system to achieve both wide wavelength tuning range and small form factor. In external cavity tuneable lasers, wide tuning range is traditionally at the expense of small form factor. The prototype, is a 10 x 10 mm microchip, in other words it is a tenth the size of most commercially available tuneable lasers.

"Currently, the team is focused on better operability of the tunable lasers (e.g. efficiency, speed, stability and reliability, etc.) and building efficient ASIC electronics interface," Hong told SpectroscopyNOW. "Furthermore, it's a complete platform that enables the creation of monolithic optical systems using advanced MEMS building blocks. The developed on-chip MEMS tunable laser offers its potential low-cost solution for the next generation of high-speed optical telecommunications, where it is possible to build-up silicon photonics circuits on the same platform for further active devices integration, building a path for future high-speed optical link." She adds that, "On-chip tunable lasers are ideal for optical spectroscopy not only due to their narrow linewidths and stable output, but also offering significant advantages in terms of compactness, functional enhancement, and cost reduction. Applications include optical bio-sensing, gas detection, trapping of particles, remote sensing, and so on."

Related Links

IEDM, online:  “Demonstration  of  a  Single-Chip  Integrated  MEMS  Tunable  Laser  with  48-nm Wavelength Range”

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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