A nanoelectromechanical tunable laser

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The ability to tune the frequency of an oscillator is of critical importance and is a fundamental building block for many systems, be they mechanical or electronic1,2. However, this very important function is still highly inadequate in optical oscillators, particularly in semiconductor laser diodes3,4. The limitations in tuning a laser frequency (or wavelength) include the tuning range and the speed of tuning, which is typically milliseconds or slower. In addition, the tuning is often not continuous and may require complex synchronization of several electrical control signals. In this Letter, we present a new tunable laser structure with a lightweight nanoelectromechanical mirror based on a single-layer, high-contrast subwavelength grating. The high-contrast subwavelength grating reflector enables a drastic reduction of the mirror mass, which increases the mechanical resonant frequency and hence tuning speed5. This allows for a wavelength-tunable light source with potential switching speeds of the order of tens of nanoseconds and suggests various new areas of practical application, such as bio- or chemical sensing6,7,8, chip-scale atomic clocks9 and projection displays10,11.

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Figure 1: Nanoelectromechanical tunable laser with a lightweight mirror.
Figure 2: Optical characteristic of NEMO-tunable VCSEL.
Figure 3: Continuous wavelength tuning of NEMO-tunable VCSEL.
Figure 4: Wavelength-tuning range limited by mirror bandwidth.
Figure 5: Mechanical tuning speed of NEMO-tunable VCSEL.


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This project was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Center for Optoelectronic Nanostructure Semiconductor Research and Technology (CONSRT). We thank Land Mark Optoelectronic for the growth of the epitaxy wafer and Berkeley Microfabrication Laboratory for the fabrication support.

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Correspondence to Connie J. Chang-Hasnain.

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Huang, M., Zhou, Y. & Chang-Hasnain, C. A nanoelectromechanical tunable laser. Nature Photon 2, 180–184 (2008) doi:10.1038/nphoton.2008.3

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