Microlaser Technology May Speed Up Nets

Laser technology is everywhere, from your television remote to telephone networks. And soon it might be used to speed up communication networks as well.

Researchers at Yale University, Bell Labs and the Max-Planck-Institute of Physics in Germany are developing semiconductor microlasers that produce directional beams 1,000 times more powerful than existing disk-shaped microlasers. Microlasers are the smallest variety of laser-their size makes them useful in such fields as optical computing and networking. By deforming the disk of the cylinder-shaped laser, the researchers found that they could cause the light to travel in a bow-tie pattern, thus increasing the laser’s output by causing it to produce four narrow beams. Each beam from the bow-tie laser has an output of 10 milliwatts of power, increasing the laser’s total output to 40 milliwatts.

These smaller, more power-efficient microlasers have the potential to speed transmissions in optical local area networks and optical data processing applications, according to Federico Capasso, head of the semiconductor physics research department for Bell Laboratories, a division of Lucent Technologies Inc. in Murray Hill, New Jersey.

Capasso says it is difficult to predict when practical applications might blossom from the research, but he says the microlasers could satisfy demand for devices that increase the speed and bandwidth of existing communications networks or create new ones, thus allowing more data to be transmitted. “The technology could pay off in new applications in five years or more,” Capasso says. “But this is long-term research that could yield technology…with a higher throughput.”