Mode-Locked Laser Miniaturization Expands Photonics Applications

Researchers have developed a tiny mode-locked laser integrated into a nanophotonic platform capable of producing high-power, ultrafast light pulses. This accomplishment in miniaturizing MLL technology has the potential to increase photonics applications dramatically. Researchers set out to improve a technology that generally requires cumbersome bench-top equipment by shrinking a mode-locked laser (MLL) to the size of an optical chip with an integrated nanophotonic platform. The findings offer potential for the development of ultrafast nanophotonic devices for a variety of applications.

The mode-locked laser can generate coherent ultrashort pulses of light at speeds of picoseconds and femtoseconds. These devices have enabled many photonics technologies, such as extreme nonlinear optics, two-photon microscopy, and optical computing.

However, most MLLs are expensive, power-hungry, and require massive discrete optical components and equipment. As a result, the usage of ultrafast photonic devices has been restricted to bench-top laboratory research. Furthermore, so-called “integrated” MLLs designed to power nanophotonic platforms have drawbacks such as low peak power and lack of controllability.

Researchers constructed an integrated mode-locked laser the size of an optical chip by combining a semiconductor optical amplifier chip with a new thin-film lithium niobate nanophotonic circuit. According to the authors, the MLL creates ultrashort 4.8 picosecond light pulses at roughly 1065 nanometers with a peak power of 0.5 Watts – the highest output pulse energy and peak power of any integrated MLL on nanophotonic platforms.

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