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A schematic of the upconverting nanoparticle (UCNP) coating on top of Ag nanopillar arrays.
A schematic of the upconverting nanoparticle (UCNP) coating on top of Ag nanopillar arrays.
Image courtesy of Berkeley Lab

The Science

A research team has used the Molecular Foundry, a Department of Energy Office of Science user facility, to create miniature lasers. These lasers are stable and work continuously. While many previous miniature lasers required very cold temperatures, these work at room temperature. To design them, researchers combined arrays of nanopillars with nanoparticles developed at the Foundry that can absorb two photons of light and emit them as a single photon with higher energy.

The Impact

Miniaturized lasers are increasingly important for generating coherent beams of light. Several technologies need this type of light, including light-based quantum technologies, machines that take images of cells inside of living organisms, solid-state lighting, and fast 3D sensors in smartphones. These technologies need lasers that can work continuously at room temperature. Previous nanolasers were not efficient and too unstable. These nanolasers require less energy to function compared to lasers that use similar technologies. They are also stable and provide continuous waves of light at room temperature. These robust, low-power lasers will be useful in a range of fields including medicine and quantum information science.

Summary

Miniaturized lasers are an emerging platform for generating coherent light for quantum photonics, in vivo cellular imaging, solid-state lighting, and fast 3D sensing in smartphones. Continuous-wave (CW) lasing at room temperature is critical for integration with opto-electronic devices and enhanced modulation of optical interactions. A critical limitation has been that, until now, nanoscale lasers have been limited to pulsed pump sources or low temperature operation. Previous nanolasers were much less efficient than macroscale lasers and generated excess heat, which destabilized them.

A research team has developed upconverting nanolasers by combining upconverting nanoparticles with nanopillar arrays to produce stable and continuous plasmon lasing at room temperature in nanomaterials smaller than the wavelength of light.

The team engineered an all-solid-state system that leverages ultra-bright upconverting nanoparticles and microlaser expertise recently developed at the Foundry, along with high quality factor arrays of silver (Ag) nanoparticles fabricated by the users.

The coherent coupling between Ag nanoparticles selectively enhances the emission of the lanthanide ion-doped UCNPs, enabling the ultra-low lasing thresholds. The plasmonic nanolasers exhibit highly directional lasing at an extremely low threshold of 29 W/cm2 and are stable for longer than 6 hours.

These nanolasers exhibit the lowest ever lasing threshold compared to other plasmon or upconverting nanolasers, and offer the rare combination of stable, continuous-wave operation at room temperature. The lasers are excited with infrared light, whose low energy minimizes damage to the environments where small lasers are needed. These robust, low power lasers are small enough to function within tissue, smartphones, or on-chip quantum circuitry, enabling applications in medicine, nanophotonics, and quantum information science.

Contact

Emory Chan; Bruce Cohen        
Molecular Foundry, Berkeley Lab
emchan@lbl.gov; becohen@lbl.gov

Teri Odom
Northwestern University
todom@northwestern.edu

James Schuck
Columbia University
p.j.schuck@columbia.edu

Funding

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF)and the Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship from DOD. Work at the Molecular Foundry was supported by the Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, of the U.S. Department of Energy. Portions of this research were supported by the Global Research Laboratory (GRL) Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT. The work used the Northwestern University Micro/Nano Fabrication Facility (NUFAB), which is partially supported by Soft and Hybrid Nanotechnology Experimental (SHyNE) Resource, the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, the State of Illinois, and Northwestern University. A.T. was supported by the Weizmann Institute of Science - National Postdoctoral Award Program for Advancing Women in Science.

Publications

Fernandez-Bravo. A., et al., “Ultralow-threshold, continuous-wave upconverting lasing from subwavelength plasmons.“ Nature Materials 18, 1172 (2019) [DOI: 10.1038/s41563-019-0482-5]

Related Links

Northwestern University press release: Tiny, biocompatible nanolaser could function inside living tissues.