Letter | Published:

Monolayer semiconductor nanocavity lasers with ultralow thresholds

Nature volume 520, pages 6972 (02 April 2015) | Download Citation


Engineering the electromagnetic environment of a nanometre-scale light emitter by use of a photonic cavity can significantly enhance its spontaneous emission rate, through cavity quantum electrodynamics in the Purcell regime. This effect can greatly reduce the lasing threshold of the emitter1,2,3,4,5, providing a low-threshold laser system with small footprint, low power consumption and ultrafast modulation. An ultralow-threshold nanoscale laser has been successfully developed by embedding quantum dots into a photonic crystal cavity (PCC)6,7,8. However, several challenges impede the practical application of this architecture, including the random positions and compositional fluctuations of the dots7, extreme difficulty in current injection8, and lack of compatibility with electronic circuits7,8. Here we report a new lasing strategy: an atomically thin crystalline semiconductor—that is, a tungsten diselenide monolayer—is non-destructively and deterministically introduced as a gain medium at the surface of a pre-fabricated PCC. A continuous-wave nanolaser operating in the visible regime is thereby achieved with an optical pumping threshold as low as 27 nanowatts at 130 kelvin, similar to the value achieved in quantum-dot PCC lasers7. The key to the lasing action lies in the monolayer nature of the gain medium, which confines direct-gap excitons to within one nanometre of the PCC surface. The surface-gain geometry gives unprecedented accessibility and hence the ability to tailor gain properties via external controls such as electrostatic gating and current injection, enabling electrically pumped operation. Our scheme is scalable and compatible with integrated photonics for on-chip optical communication technologies.

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We thank C. Dodson for helping with reflection measurements of nanocavities. This work was mainly supported by AFOSR (FA9550-14-1-0277). A.M. is supported by NSF-EFRI-1433496. Photonic crystal fabrication was performed in part at the Stanford Nanofabrication Facility of NNIN supported by the NSF under grant no. ECS-9731293, and at the Stanford Nano Center. S.W. was partially supported by the State of Washington through the University of Washington Clean Energy Institute. S.B. and J.V. were supported by the Presidential Early Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) administered through the Office of Naval Research, under grant number N00014-08-1-0561. S.B. was also supported by a Stanford Graduate Fellowship. J.Y. and D.G.M. were supported by US DoE, BES, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division. F.H. acknowledges support from the European Commission (FP7-ICT-2013-613024-GRASP).

Author information


  1. Department of Physics, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

    • Sanfeng Wu
    • , John R. Schaibley
    • , Liefeng Feng
    •  & Xiaodong Xu
  2. Ginzton Laboratory, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Sonia Buckley
    •  & Jelena Vučković
  3. Department of Applied Physics, Tianjin University, Tianjin 300072, China

    • Liefeng Feng
  4. Materials Science and Technology Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831, USA

    • Jiaqiang Yan
    •  & David G. Mandrus
  5. Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996, USA

    • Jiaqiang Yan
    •  & David G. Mandrus
  6. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996, USA

    • David G. Mandrus
  7. Department of Physics, Humboldt University, D-12489 Berlin, Germany

    • Fariba Hatami
  8. Department of Physics and Center of Theoretical and Computational Physics, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China

    • Wang Yao
  9. Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

    • Arka Majumdar
  10. Department of Material Science and Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

    • Xiaodong Xu


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X.X. and A.M. conceived the experiments. S.B. and A.M. fabricated and characterized PCCs under the supervision of J.V. S.W. fabricated the hybrid devices and performed the measurements with assistance from J.R.S. and L.F., under the supervision of X.X. S.W., X.X., A.M. and S.B. analysed the data, and acknowledge discussions with W.Y. and J.V. J.Y. and D.G.M. provided the bulk WSe2. F.H. grew the GaP membrane. S.W. wrote the paper with input from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Arka Majumdar or Xiaodong Xu.

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