Article Highlight | 9-Jan-2024

UTA team exploring new semiconductor photonics technology

Research has applications in self-driving cars, satellite tech and space exploration

University of Texas at Arlington

A University of Texas at Arlington electrical engineering researcher is maximizing the power of light in the operations of semiconductor chips to make them more efficient, powerful and bright.

Weidong Zhou, a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Electric Engineering, is leading the $2.7 million U.S. Department of Defense grant investigating high brightness semiconductor photonic crystal surface-emitting laser (PCSEL) chip technology. Yuze “Alice” Sun, a UTA electrical engineering associate professor, is a co-principal investigator.

“Some applications of the research include self-driving cars, satellite technology and space exploration,” Zhou said. “What we are trying to do is investigate a new type of semiconductor laser. This project is part of the chip sector, but it’s also part of the space sector.”

Part of Zhou’s project is focused on scaling laser power output while maintaining high laser beam quality.

Semiconductor lasers are key for development of technologies in many fields. In recent decades, a new type of large-area, surface-emitting laser based on in-plane photonic crystal modulation and feedback has emerged that highlights the advantages of high output power, low-divergence, high beam quality, brightness, and compact and monolithic structures, Zhou wrote in an October 2023 paper in Applied Physics Letters. The paper reviewed the design and development of photonic crystal surface-emitting lasers and discussed future areas of exploration.

Zhou is working to establish a major consortium center at UT Arlington focused on advanced research in semiconductor photonics, PCSEL laser chips and related application areas in space, defense, quantum and communications.

His current work builds upon a number of previous projects he has led for the University. In 2023, UTA joined a new consortium funded by the Department of Energy that involves the development of innovative technologies and college courses covering everything from radiation detection to nuclear engineering. As part of the project, UTA is developing 2D materials that can be integrated into new handheld photonic technologies with multiple uses.

In 2022, Zhou received a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant to explore optical laser beam modulations for 3D sensing in autonomous driving cars. A year before that, he received a $580,000 Air Force Office of Scientific Research grant to purchase a Raith VOYAGER 100 high-performance electron beam writer system.

The 2024 annual Photonics Workshop and Showcase is scheduled for Feb. 9 at UTA, with a focus on semiconductor photonics for harsh environments.

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