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A theme for the 2013 Bower Award in Science

Creating Light: Photonic Sources for Communications, Data Storage, and Display Technologies

The significance of light has been manifested in mythological symbols in various cultures. The Greek and Roman gods (Zeus and Apollo) and the Persian god (Ahura-Mazda) are a manifestation of light and their power is roots in the victory of light over darkness (e.g., winter solstice celebration). Early traditions have migrated to modern religions and coincide with religious celebrations: the sun disk of Mithraism is replaced by halos in iconoclastic portrayal of saints; the eternal wisdom of mystics and Sufi’s are equated with inner light and its purity. 

Harnessing light has been the dream of man for ages, and various innovations have assisted that cause. From Nimrud’s lens- the first historical evidence of the caputure of light through a focusing action- by Assyrians over 3,000 years ago in modern Iraq, to Thomas Edison’s first incandescent light bulb (Franklin Engineering Award in 1915), we have gone through the Enlightment period in the history of man. Nikola Tesla’s experiments dealing with various forms of electric discharge and artificial lightning (Cresson Engineering Award in 1894) and the Graham Bell’s Photophone invention (Cresson Engineering Award in 1912) are other technological efforts of engineers to employ light for the benefit of humanity.  

Since thermal or incoherent optical sources are not suitable for modern technical applications as coherent optical sources, ideas of creating light in its coherent state were pursued. Albert Einstein, who received the Franklin Medal in 1935, is also recognized for his visionary work on stimulated emission as a source of coherent emission of light, a requirement for successful light oscillation by stimulated emission of radiation. However, in 1955 Kusch and Lamb received the Nobel Prize in physics for their ground breaking work on Quantum Electrodynamics in 1947 and followed by a joint Nobel Prize in 1964 recognizing Charles Townes’ theoretical analysis and Basov and Prokhorov experimental demonstration of MASER in 1958. Eventually in 1960 Ted Maiman of Hughes Research Lab and Prof. Ali Javan of Bell Labs were successful in the first demonstration of LASER in Ruby crystal and in He-Ne gas.

However, the development of LASER in semiconductor diodes was the critical quantum jump in creating light in small structures. With modern techniques it is possible to build up well-defined, thin-layered structures of different semiconducting materials, in direct contact with each other.

With such “heterostructures” one is not limited to the band-gaps provided by semiconducting materials like silicon and germanium. Herbert Kroemer analyzed theoretically the mobility of electrons and holes in heterostructure junctions. His propositions led to the build-up of transistors with much improved characteristics, later called HEMTs (high electron mobility transistors), which are very important in today's high-speed electronics. Kroemer suggested also, at about the same time as Zhores I. Alferov, the use of double heterostructures to provide conditions for laser action. Alferov built the first working pulsed semiconductor laser in 1970. Alferov and Kroemer in 2000 shared the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Jack Kilby for the invention of integrated circuits. Alferov received the Nobel Prize in physics for forecasting and realizing through experiment a number of new principles regulating the electron and the light currents in crystals; in his words “fiber-optic communications and mobile phones would never be there, if it were not for heterostructures.”

Heterostructures gave birth to a new branch in physical research, which has led to significant accomplishments and invigorated research and new technological evaluations. The leading theme is due to the low cost realization of photonic sources covering visible and invisible electromagnetic spectrum. This innovation marked the beginning of the era of modern optoelectronic devices now prevalently used in data networks (e.g., used for data transmission through the internet), parallel processed computers (e.g., IBM Watson), efficient light sources and displays (e.g., LED), data storage devices (e.g., CD/DVD players), optical sensors (e.g., biological pathogen detectors at THz frequencies), and fiber optic communications (e.g., FTTH). A large number of technical publications have been amassed in the last 40 years in the form of books and journals from various professional organizations (e.g., IEEE). Moreover, public interest has been peaked and is manifested by the large number of technological news in public media (e.g., New York Times). 

Nominations were sought in September 2011 for the 2013 Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science, and we have received an overwhelming number of response responses from highly recognized technical leaders. Dr. Kenichi Iga, Emeritus Professor and past President of Tokyo Institute of Technology. A mini-symposium has been organized on the topic of "Optical Source Technologies: Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers" on April 24, 2013  at Drexel University.