Laser radio promises new hybrid electronic-photonic devices

April 29, 2019 //By Wisse Hettinga
Laser RF transmitter promises new hybrid electronic-photonic devices
The first time a semiconductor laser has been used as a radio frequency transmitter, paving the way for ultra-high-speed Wi-Fi and new types of hybrid electronic-photonic devices.

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences transmitted a recording of Martin's classic "Volare" wirelessly via a semiconductor laser—the first time a semiconductor laser has been used as a radio frequency transmitter.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers demonstrated a laser that can emit microwaves wirelessly, modulate them, and receive external radio frequency signals.

This research builds on previous work from the Capasso Lab. In 2017, the researchers discovered that an infrared frequency comb in a quantum cascade laser could be used to generate terahertz frequencies, the submillimeter wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that could move data hundreds of times faster than today's wireless platforms. In 2018, the team found that quantum cascade laser frequency combs could also act as integrated transmitters or receivers to efficiently encode information.

Now, the researchers have figured out a way to extract and transmit wireless signals from laser frequency combs.

Unlike conventional lasers, which emit a single frequency of light, laser frequency combs emit multiple frequencies simultaneously, evenly spaced to resemble the teeth of a comb. In 2018, the researchers discovered that inside the laser, the different frequencies of light beat together to generate microwave radiation. The light inside the cavity of the laser caused electrons to oscillate at microwave frequencies—which are within the communications spectrum.

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