Nanowire amplification improves potential for erbium-based integrated photonics

IMAGE: Erbium silicate salt, developed as a nanowire with a slimmer profile, could allow engineers to pack up to 1000 times more erbium in optical amplifiers, lasers, quantum information devices, switches, and solar power cells for higher gain towards on-chip integrated devices. (Image credit: ASU)

Arizona State University (ASU; Tempe, AZ) electrical engineering professor and researcher Cun-Zheng Ning, along with Hao Sun from China’s Tsinghua University, and their teams have made another breakthrough using the rare-earth metal erbium as the gain material for an optical amplifier, this time with an achievement that will enable its use for the first time with small chip optical technologies. The discovery attains a decades-long goal in the field of photonic integration, in which different small optical components are tightly combined for better performance and ease of fabrication.

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Details of the new optical amplification, “Giant optical gain in a single-crystal erbium chloride silicate nanowire,” were published in Nature Photonics. The team has succeeded in raising erbium’s optical gain from the typical low level of a few dB to over 100 dB per centimeter of propagation. The significant increase in optical gain will make it possible for erbium-based materials to be integrated on a chip for optical amplifiers and lasers.

In 2011, Ning led a team that discovered that particular erbium silicate salt, developed as a nanowire with a slimmer profile, could be an excellent candidate as a photonics amplification material. It allows engineers to pack up to 1000 times more erbium in optical amplifiers, lasers, quantum information devices, switches, and solar power cells. 

Erbium is important for many applications, especially as an optical amplifier buried along with optical fibers for communications across and between continents. The erbium-doped amplifier is an…

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