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Optoelectronics & Communications

Smallest laser ever could enable optical computers

Purdue University
17 August 2009

A team co-led by SPIE Fellow Vladimir Shalaev, SPIE Members Mikhail Noginov and Evgenii Narimanov, and SPIE author Ulrich Wiesner has demonstrated the smallest laser ever, with technology that could form the basis of future optical computers.

The innovation could pave the way for a host of innovations, including superfast computers that use light instead of electrons to process information, advanced sensors and imaging.

Because the new device, called a "spaser," is the first of its kind to emit visible light, it represents a critical component for possible future technologies based on "nanophotonic" circuitry, said Shalaev, the Robert and Anne Burnett Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University.

Such circuits will require a laser-light source, but current lasers can't be made small enough to integrate them into electronic chips. Now researchers have overcome this obstacle, harnessing clouds of electrons called "surface plasmons," instead of the photons that make up light, to create the tiny spasers.

The team's work is described in the journal Nature, and was reported on in papers at SPIE Optics and Photonics in San Diego, California, earlier this month.

Press release from Purdue University

Report from MIT Technology Review