Wicked tiny laser could radically alter computers, sensors, imaging

World’s smallest laser -- more than 1 million could fit inside a red blood cell – could change way electronics are made

Researchers today said they have created the world's smallest laser  -- more than 1 million could fit inside a red blood cell -- that could help speed computers, sensors and imaging all by using light instead of electrons to process information.

Researchers at Purdue University have dubbed the laser device a "spaser" because it generates a form of radiation called surface plasmons. The idea is that such light-based nanophotonic circuitry could replace existing transistors in all manner of electronic equipment.  Current lasers can't be made small enough to integrate them into electronic chips, researchers stated.

Nanophotonics may usher in a host of radical advances, including powerful "hyperlenses" resulting in sensors and microscopes 10 times more powerful than today's and able to see objects as small as DNA; computers and consumer electronics that use light instead of electronic signals to process information; and more efficient solar collectors, researchers stated.

The spaser-based nanolasers researchers created were spheres 44 nanometers, or billionths of a meter, in diameter - more than 1 million could fit inside a red blood cell. The spheres were fabricated at Cornell, with Norfolk State and Purdue performing the optical characterization needed to determine whether the devices behave as lasers.

The findings confirm work by physicists David Bergman at Tel Aviv University and Mark Stockman at Georgia State University, who first proposed the spaser concept in 2003.

Spasers contain a gold core surrounded by a glasslike shell filled with green dye. When a light is shined on the spheres, plasmons generated by the gold core were amplified by the dye. The plasmons were then converted to photons of visible light, which was emitted as a laser.

Spasers require a "feedback system" that causes the surface plasmons to oscillate back and forth so that they gain power and can be emitted as light. Conventional lasers are limited in how small they can be made because this feedback component for photons, called an optical resonator, must be at least half the size of the wavelength of laser light, researchers stated.

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