January 13, 2011

Big progress towards room temperature - 1.8-THz quantum cascade laser operating at 163K instead of 73K

a, Maximum operating temperature (Tmax) versus frequency survey chart for terahertz QCLs (which operate without the assistance of a magnetic field), where the shaded area corresponds to a variety of reported design

Nature Physics- A 1.8-THz quantum cascade laser operating significantly above the temperature of planck ω/kB

The breakthrough moves terahartz quantum cascade lasers closer to applications
* disease diagnosis
* quality control in drug manufacturing
* detection of concealed weapons, drugs and explosives
* the remote sensing of the earth’s atmosphere
* the study of star and galaxy formation.

Several competing technologies continue to advance the field of terahertz science; of particular importance has been the development of a terahertz semiconductor quantum cascade laser (QCL), which is arguably the only solid-state terahertz source with average optical power levels of much greater than a milliwatt. Terahertz QCLs are required to be cryogenically cooled and improvement of their temperature performance is the single most important research goal in the field. Thus far, their maximum operating temperature has been empirically limited to ~planckω/kB, a largely inexplicable trend that has bred speculation that a room-temperature terahertz QCL may not be possible in materials used at present. Here, we argue that this behaviour is an indirect consequence of the resonant-tunnelling injection mechanism employed in all previously reported terahertz QCLs. We demonstrate a new scattering-assisted injection scheme to surpass this limit for a 1.8-THz QCL that operates up to ~1.9planckω/kB (163 K). Peak optical power in excess of 2 mW was detected from the laser at 155 K. This development should make QCL technology attractive for applications below 2 THz, and initiate new design strategies for realizing a room-temperature terahertz semiconductor laser.

13 pages of supplemental information

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