Princeton University

School of Engineering & Applied Science

From Quantum Cascade to Super Cascade Laser

Loan Le
Engineering Quadrangle B327
Friday, October 2, 2015 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Over the span of more than 20 years of development, the Quantum Cascade (QC) laser has positioned itself as the most viable mid-infrared (mid-IR) light source. Today’s QC lasers emit watts of continuous wave power at room temperature. Despite significant progress, the mid-IR region remains vastly under-utilized. State-of-the-art QC lasers are found in high power defense applications and detection of trace gases with narrow absorption lines. A large number of applications, however, do not require so much power, but rather, a broadly tunable laser source to detect molecules with broad absorption features. As such, a QC laser that is broadly tunable over the entire biochemical fingerprinting region remains the missing link to markets such as non- invasive biomedical diagnostics, food safety, and stand-off detection in turbid media.
In this thesis, we detail how we utilized the inherent flexibility of the QC design space to conceive a new type of laser with the potential to bridge that missing link of the QC laser to large commercial markets. Our design concept, the Super Cascade (SC) laser, works contrary to conventional laser design principle by supporting multiple independent optical transitions, each contributing to broadening the gain spectrum. We have demonstrated a room temperature laser gain medium with electroluminescence spanning 3.3-12.5 μm and laser emission from 6.2-12.5 μm, the record spectral width for any solid state laser gain medium. This gain bandwidth covers the entire biochemical fingerprinting region.
The achievement of such a spectrally broad gain medium presents engineering challenges of how to optimally utilize the bandwidth. As of this work, a monolithically integrated array of Distributed Feedback QC (DFB-QC) lasers is one of the most promis- ing ways to fully utilize the SC gain bandwidth. Therefore, in this thesis, we explore ways of improving the yield and ease of fabrication of DFB-QC lasers, including a re- examination of the role of current spreading in QC geometry.