Crossing the threshold for laser cooling

January 29, 2014 by Kurt Pfitzer
By preventing the breakdown of high-frequency phonons in the compound’s crystalline lattice, Yujie Ding and his students hope to achieve laser cooling in gallium nitride. Credit: Douglas Benedict

( —Gallium nitride has emerged as one of the most widely used materials in the optoelectronics industry and the most important semiconducting material after silicon.

GaN's hardness, crystalline structure and wide bandgap make it ideal for a variety of applications. These include light-emitting diodes (LEDs), that read blu-ray discs, transistors that operate at high temperatures, solar cell arrays for satellites, biochemical sensors and, because of GaN's relative biocompatibility, electronic implants in humans.

Yujie Ding, professor of electrical and computer engineering, sees another, potentially more revolutionary role for GaN.

The compound, he says, can be engineered so that light passing through GaN actually cools it instead of heating it. This phenomenon, called laser cooling, or laser refrigeration, would eliminate the need for costly heat-dispersion methods that are employed to prevent electronic devices from overheating.

"GaN can be used to make lasers, optoelectronic and electronic devices," says Ding, who is a fellow of both the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Optical Society of America. "What if we could also use GaN for cooling? This would be one-stop shopping. We could monolithically integrate everything—the laser, the laser-cooling device and the —on the same substrate."

Overturning the Stokes ratios

Ding's group has reached the threshold for achieving laser refrigeration by utilizing a phenomenon called anti-Stokes photoluminescence (APSL), which refers to the tiny fraction of photons, or units of light energy, whose frequency increases after striking a material. Stokes scattering occurs when the frequency of scattered photons is lower than the frequency of incident photons. The phenomena are named for Sir George Stokes, a 19th-century British physicist and mathematician.

The ratio of the occurrence of Stokes to anti-Stokes scattering, says Ding, is typically 35:1. Scientists would like to reduce this to 1:1, at which point a material neither heats nor cools when struck by light, and even further, when, with more anti-Stokes than Stokes scattering, a material imparts its energy, and thus its heat, to the light passing through it.

Two years ago, Ding and his students, working with Jacob B. Khurgin, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Johns Hopkins, succeeded in reducing the ratio of Stokes to anti-Stokes to 2:1 in GaN, in numerical simulations and in lab experiments. The ratio was the most favorable achieved to that point.

Recently, the group improved upon their results and recorded a ratio of 1:4.

"We have not yet demonstrated cooling," said Ding. "That will require further work. But we have demonstrated that we are above the threshold for laser cooling."

The cooling potential of phonons

Laser cooling was first demonstrated 20 years ago on glass doped with a rare earth element. This method is ineffective, says Ding, because only the relatively small portion of the material that is doped contributes to cooling.

By contrast, GaN's makes it possible for a much larger portion of the compound to play a role in cooling. Of critical importance are the phonons, or collective vibrations at a uniform frequency, of the GaN molecules in the compound's crystalline lattice.

"Because of the nonlinear properties of the lattices," says Ding, "phonons vibrating at very high frequency break down to lower-frequency vibrations. At this lower acoustical vibrational frequency, the phonons become heat."

To prevent the breakdown of phononic vibrations, Ding's group combines the higher-frequency-vibration phonons with incoming photons. In this manner, the high-frequency phononic vibrations are removed before they break down, and the vibrations, instead of generating heat, are emitted as high-frequency photons.

"The advantage of GaN," says Ding, "is that the collective vibration of all the GaN molecules in the lattice makes it possible for the entire lattice to potentially contribute to cooling by promoting the upconversion of high-frequency phonons.

"We have learned how to use ASPL to convert input photons with low energy to outgoing photons with higher energy. To do this, we remove phonons by using resonance enhancement of outgoing photons' energy with energy states of GaN. Thus we enhance ASPL."

"This is the best way to achieve , because once the breakdown of high-frequency phonons occurs and produces heat, the process is not reversible. You have to work to remove heat and this is never effective."

"Ours can be considered as a fundamental breakthrough in laser refrigeration because it shows that laser refrigeration can be obtained with a III-V semiconductor, that is, with the very materials from which the optoelectronic devices that require are themselves made."

Explore further: Training light to cool the material it strikes

Related Stories

Training light to cool the material it strikes

October 17, 2012

(—Light might one day be used to cool the materials through which it passes, instead of heating them, thanks to a breakthrough by engineers at Lehigh and Johns Hopkins Universities.

Researchers demonstrate laser cooling of a semiconductor

January 28, 2013

(—A team of physicists working in Singapore has, for the first time, demonstrated the cooling of a semiconductor using a laser. To achieve this feat, the team, as they describe in their paper published in the journal ...

Growing gallium nitride crystals

November 7, 2013

Gallium nitride (GaN) is an important material for the semiconductor industry. It features a wide band gap and high thermal conductivity at room temperature, which make it a good material for optoelectronic devices and high-performance ...

Researchers build fully mechanical phonon laser

March 19, 2013

( —Researchers working at Japan's NTT Basic Research Laboratories have successfully built an all mechanical phonon laser. In their paper published in Physical Review Letters, the team describes how they built a ...

Recommended for you

Two teams independently test Tomonaga–Luttinger theory

October 20, 2017

(—Two teams of researchers working independently of one another have found ways to test aspects of the Tomonaga–Luttinger theory that describes interacting quantum particles in 1-D ensembles in a Tomonaga–Luttinger ...

Using optical chaos to control the momentum of light

October 19, 2017

Integrated photonic circuits, which rely on light rather than electrons to move information, promise to revolutionize communications, sensing and data processing. But controlling and moving light poses serious challenges. ...

Black butterfly wings offer a model for better solar cells

October 19, 2017

(—A team of researchers with California Institute of Technology and the Karlsruh Institute of Technology has improved the efficiency of thin film solar cells by mimicking the architecture of rose butterfly wings. ...

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

October 19, 2017

Brown University researchers have demonstrated a way to bring a powerful form of spectroscopy—a technique used to study a wide variety of materials—into the nano-world.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jan 29, 2014
edit: ASPL is displayed APSL when it is first defined.

(Which one is it?)
not rated yet Feb 03, 2014
laser cannon.

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.