I’m sitting in Bristol and I type ‘Hiya mate’ (emoji is not an option) on WhatsApp to my friend in Shanghai and within seconds the message is downloaded onto his phone nearly 6,000 miles away. This is amazing, how is this possible? Well, it is made possible by light. Light travels so fast that within one second it would have traveled all the way round the world nearly eight times! Therefore, it could have got from Bristol to Shanghai in a mere fraction of a second.
The message is carried by light that is created by semiconductor lasers. Semiconductors such as computer chips contain millions of switches but a semiconductor lasers purpose is to produce light of a very defined wavelength and direction. By switching the laser on and off rapidly, it is possible to transmit vast amounts of data across large distances very quickly. This is the back bone of the internet and other communications that we take for granted these days.
The semiconductor laser is typically made from Indium phosphide (InP) based material and requires plasma processing to produce the best devices. Plasma processing plays a major part as it is used to etch the required features, smooth laser facets for example, and also provide protective layers to increase the device lifetime. Plasma Technology has been involved in making Solid State Lasers (SSLs) for decades and has seen the devices move from research in laboratories into a production environment. Click here to find out more.
Amazing communication is only the start of how lasers are improving our lives though. Another example is that lasers will be used for motion detection enabling the next generation VR gaming and also driverless cars in Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) systems. Accurate distance and rapid response from the laser and sensor system give the level of detail essential for us to trust in the technology enough to actually drive us.
Lasers are seldom visible in day to day life but the areas of life they illuminate (any puns are always intended), already large, is growing every day.
Author: Dr Mark Dineen