Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Art of Nanolasers

Electrical engineering grad student Janelle Shane has a knack for photography and communicating about science. Also, nanolasers. Blogging at Postcards from the Frontiers of Science, Shane features breathtaking images from her research in photonics, which in her own words means: "I study light, and the engineering problems you can solve using light."

Photo courtesy of electrical engineering grad student Qing Gu.
Shane is part of the Ultrafast and Nanoscale Optics Group led by electrical engineering professor Shaya Fainman. You might say she has a gift for explaining science on the nanoscale. To demonstrate how a nanolaser is built, for example, Shane positioned a nanolaser built at UC San Diego next to a hoodoo, which is a skinny tower of rock that protrudes from the  ground.

Shane explains how they are similar:

The one on the left is a nanolaser, carved by high-energy plasma and strong acid, and invisible to the naked eye.  The one on the right is a hoodoo, carved by wind and rain, and is approximately 20 million times larger. And about 60 million times older.

The reason they look similar is that they’re actually carved by similar phenomena - different layers of these pillars are made of materials that are eaten away at different rates.  In both these cases, the top layer’s made out of the hardest material, and is supported by a pedestal of ever-decreasing thickness.  The hoodoo’s pillar will eventually be eaten away, making the pillar topple.  We face the same danger when making our nanolasers, where we have to time the etch length carefully to prevent the laser from collapsing.

 Check out Shane's other fun, fascinating and just plain cool pics on her blog.
Image from simulations of light in the cavities of nanolasers by Janelle Shane.

A microscopic nanolaser imaged under an electron microscope by Shane's labmate and fellow grad student Qing Gu.

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