Squeezing light out of quantum dots may lead to advanced laser technology

April 3rd, 2009 - 2:54 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, April 3 (ANI): Researchers at McGill University, Canada, have successfully amplified light with so-called “colloidal quantum dots,” a technology that could lead to forward leaps in lasers, telecom and optical computing.

Over the last 15 years, repeated quantum dot research efforts failed to deliver on expected improvements in amplification, and many researchers started to believe that an unknown, but insurmountable law of physics was blocking their path.

Essentially, they said, quantum dots would simply never work well for one of their primary applications.

However, after extensive research, Professor Patanjali Kambhampati and colleagues at McGill University’s Department of Chemistry determined that colloidal quantum dots do indeed amplify light as promised.

The earlier disappointments were due to accidental roadblocks, not by any fundamental law of physics, the researchers said.

Colloidal quantum dots can actually be painted directly on to surfaces, and this breakthrough has enormous potential significance for the future of laser technology, and by extension, for telecommunications, next-generation optical computing and an innumerable array of other applications.

Lasers - beams of high-powered coherent light - have applications in dozens of fields, most notably in telecommunications, where they are used to transmit voice and data over fibre-optic cables.

Like sound, radio waves or electricity, laser signals gradually lose power over distance and must be passed through an amplifier to maintain signal strength.

Until now, the best available amplification technology was the quantum well, a thin sheet made of semi-conductor material, which confines electrons to a one-dimensional plane, and consequently amplifies light.

Colloidal quantum dots perform a similar function, but in a three-dimensional box-like structure instead of a flat sheet.

“Everyone expected this little box to be significantly better than a thin sheet. You’d require less electrical power, and you wouldn’t need to use arrays of expensive cooling racks,” Kambhampati said.

“In our view, no one had figured out how the simple, prototypical quantum dot actually worked. And if you don’t know that, how are you going to rationally construct a device out of it?” he added.

In the end, Kambhampati and his colleagues discovered that the major problem lay in the way researchers had been powering their quantum dot amplifiers.

“We discovered that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the dots. If you weren’t careful in your measurements, when powering the quantum dot, you would accidentally create a parasitic effect that would kill the amplification,” he said.

“Once we understood this, we were able to take a quantum dot that no one believed could amplify anything, and turned it into the most efficient amplifier ever measured, as far as I know,” he added. (ANI)

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