Laser sets records in power and energy efficiency

July 24, 2007

The rise in global terrorism in recent years has brought significant attention to the needs for more advanced sensors and defense technologies to protect civilians and soldiers.

Next-generation laser-based defense systems are now being designed for this need, including the use of infrared countermeasures to protect aircraft from heat-seeking missiles and highly sensitive chemical detectors for reliable early detection of trace explosives and other toxins at a safe distance for personnel.

Since practical systems must be easily portable by a soldier, aircraft or unmanned vehicle, they must be lightweight, compact and power efficient. In addition, such systems also would need to be widely deployable and available to all soldiers, airplanes and public facilities, which requires a low production and operating cost. While several types of lasers exist today that can emit at the desired infrared wavelengths, none of these lasers meet the above requirements because they are either too expensive, not mass-producible, too fragile or require power-hungry and inefficient cryogenic refrigeration.

A new type of semiconductor-based laser, called the Quantum Cascade Laser (QCL), may soon change this situation. Like their computer chip cousins, semiconductors lasers are inherently compact and suitable for mass production, which has led to their widespread and low-cost use in everyday products, including CD and DVD players.

The Center for Quantum Devices (CQD) at Northwestern University, led by Manijeh Razeghi, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, has recently made great strides in laser design, material growth and laser fabrication that have greatly increased the output power and wall-plug efficiency (the ability to change electrical power into light) of QCLs.

The CQD now has demonstrated individual lasers, 300 of which can easily fit on a penny, emitting at wavelengths of 4.5 microns, capable of producing over 700 milli-Watts of continuous output power at room temperature and more than one Watt of output power at lower temperatures.

Furthermore, these lasers are extremely efficient in converting electricity to light, having a 10 percent wall-plug efficiency at room temperature and more than 18 percent wall-plug efficiency at lower temperatures. This represents a factor of two increase in laser performance, which is far superior to any competing laser technology at this wavelength.

Source: Northwestern University

Explore further: Phenomenon could lead to more compact, tunable X-ray devices made of graphene

Related Stories

Recommended for you

CERN collides heavy nuclei at new record high energy

November 25, 2015

The world's most powerful accelerator, the 27 km long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) operating at CERN in Geneva established collisions between lead nuclei, this morning, at the highest energies ever. The LHC has been colliding ...

'Material universe' yields surprising new particle

November 25, 2015

An international team of researchers has predicted the existence of a new type of particle called the type-II Weyl fermion in metallic materials. When subjected to a magnetic field, the materials containing the particle act ...

Exploring the physics of a chocolate fountain

November 24, 2015

A mathematics student has worked out the secrets of how chocolate behaves in a chocolate fountain, answering the age-old question of why the falling 'curtain' of chocolate surprisingly pulls inwards rather than going straight ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.