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Improving LEDs to Surpass Lasers

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 07:32AM

Lasers and LEDs are two very common optical technologies that both provide very clear light, but have very different uses. These different uses are because of the different ways the technologies emit light, and their advantages and disadvantages. Now researchers at Berkeley Lab have made a discovery that could erase one of LEDs disadvantages and lead to optical interconnects on chips, and more.

Lasers produce their light by stimulated emission, which is actually what the 's' and 'e' stand for in the word, so energy is pumped into the device and something (a photon) has to trigger the emission of the photons. Light emitting diodes however rely on spontaneous emission, so energy is pumped in and the device naturally emits the light as a result. As lasers are stimulated, they can emit light faster than LEDs, which are limited by the size of the molecules involved. In fact spontaneous emission rates would have to increase by a factor of 200 to surpass stimulated emission, but the Berkeley researchers just managed to reach 115. This was achieved by adding gold optical antennas at half the wavelength of the light to the emitting material, making it easier to emit the photons.

One of the potential applications for such fast LEDs would be for short distance communications, such as on a microchip, where lasers would be too large and draw too much power to be desirable. Considering the researchers believe their optical antenna approach could lead to a 2500-fold increase in emission rate, this research could lead to a tremendous speed boost.

Source: Berkeley Lab

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