Milestones:Invention of the Semiconductor Laser, 1962

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Semiconductor Laser, 1962


In the autumn of 1962, General Electric’s Schenectady and Syracuse facilities, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, and MIT Lincoln Laboratory each independently reported the first demonstrations of the semiconductor laser. Smaller than a grain of rice, powered using direct current injection, and available at wavelengths spanning the ultraviolet to the infrared, the semiconductor laser became ubiquitous in modern communications, data storage, and precision measurement systems.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the Milestone Plaque Sites

• K West B Level, North, GE Research, One Research Circle, Niskayuna, NY 12309 (GPS Coordinates: 42.8312° N, 73.8797° W) <br>• Main Lobby, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, 1101 Kitchawan Road, Yorktown Heights, NY 10598 (GPS coordinates: 41.2098° N, 73.8026° W) <br> • Main Lobby, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lincoln Laboratory, 244 Wood Street, Lexington, MA 02421 (GPS coordinates: 42.459061° N, 71.266997° W), • K West B Level, North, GE Research, One Research Circle, Niskayuna, NY 12309 (GPS Coordinates: 42.8312° N, 73.8797° W) <br>• Main Lobby, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center, 1101 Kitchawan Road, Yorktown Heights, NY 10598 (GPS coordinates: 41.2098° N, 73.8026° W) <br> • Main Lobby, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lincoln Laboratory, 244 Wood Street, Lexington, MA 02421 (GPS coordinates: 42.459061° N, 71.266997° W)

Details of the physical location of the plaque

• GE Research Niskayuna: The plaque will be mounted on the wall near the semiconductor research laboratories at GE Research. The GE Research site in Niskayuna is where semiconductor lasers where tested, both the GaAs laser Robert Hall’s team developed and the GaAsP visible laser developed in GE Syracuse by Nick Holonyak’s team <br> • IBM: Structural column in the main lobby of the building <br> • MIT Lincoln Laboratory: Main Lobby milestone display case, alongside other IEEE Milestone plaques

How the intended plaque site is protected/secured

• GE Research Niskayuna: The site is gated with security personnel and not open to the general public. Visitors would need to be registered and approved before being allowed on site and must have a GE employee chaperone at all times. Contact to gain access on site: Todd Alhart (518-338-5880) <br> • IBM: The main lobby is open to the public. To be admitted to the rest of the building, receptionists at the front desk will contact hosts to come to the lobby to escort visitors into the building <br> • MIT Lincoln Laboratory: The site (MIT Lincoln Laboratory) has gated access that requires presentation of identification to enter. MIT Lincoln Laboratory is a secure facility. The main entrance and lobby area is open to the public, and the Laboratory often opens its auditorium to outside events, including IEEE Boston Section, IEEE Photonics Society Boston Chapter, and IEEE Life Fellow meetings; and Science on Saturday demonstrations for K−12 students.

Historical significance of the work

Sixty years after its invention, the semiconductor laser has become a foundational element in a vast range of human endeavors, including optical communications (e.g., transcontinental undersea fiber-optic cables, data-center interconnects, free-space links connecting ground, air, and space), data storage and retrieval (e.g., compact disks [CDs] and digital video disks [DVDs]), human-machine interactions (e.g., computer-mouse pointing devices, laser pointers, printers, and light displays), manufacturing (e.g., industrial cutting and welding), medicine (e.g., optical coherence tomography [OCT]), and even in our leisure activities in the form of children’s toys and displays. Perhaps nowhere else has the semiconductor laser had greater impact than in communications, where every second, a semiconductor laser quietly encodes the sum of human knowledge into light, enabling it to be shared almost instantaneously across oceans and space. This capability is possible at tremendous scale and economy because the semiconductor laser realizes all the elements of a laser – light generation and amplification, lenses, and mirrors – within a solid microminiature block of material. <br><br>The enabling characteristics of the semiconductor laser include its small size (i.e., typically less than a cubic millimeter), its efficiency at converting electrical energy into coherent laser light, and its availability in a wide range of colors (or wavelengths) across the spectrum from ultraviolet (UV) to long-wave infrared (LWIR) to terahertz (THz). These desirable attributes attracted the imagination of scientists and engineers who, through decades of innovation, transformed the initial comparatively feeble semiconductor laser into the society-underpinning technology it is today. Still, the semiconductor laser’s potential is not fully tapped, as it is continually used to explore and exploit the realm of quantum mechanics in the service of mankind.

Robert Keyes, Theodore M. Quist, and Robert Rediker at MIT-Lincoln Laboratory demonstrating transmission of a television signal using their newly developed semiconductor technology in 1962. Keyes, Quist and Rediker were one of four research teams (two teams at GE, and another at IBM) who independently developed and demonstrated diode lasers in 1962.

Features that set this work apart from similar achievements

In the few years between the demonstrations of the first laser (1960) and the semiconductor laser (1962), lasers could only be realized by an assembly of multiple discrete components, including an optical gain medium (e.g., doped glasses and crystals, atomic and molecular gases) that generated and amplified the light, a “pump” mechanism that energized the gain medium (e.g., flash lamp, electric discharge), and optical elements (e.g., mirrors, waveguides) that guided light and created a resonant cavity. In contrast, semiconductor materials could convert electrical energy directly into light, realizing both functionalities of the gain medium and pump in a single component. Moreover, the additional structures required to create a laser – optics for guiding the light and mirrors for the formation of a resonant cavity – could also be realized within the semiconductor material. <br><br> Because all this functionality came together in a tiny volume (less than 1 mm<sup>3</sup>), it could be economically produced in high volume. And in contrast to preceding laser technologies that were limited to fixed discrete colors (or wavelengths), the alloys making up the semiconductor material could be continuously varied in composition to create a wide range of laser colors, allowing the semiconductor laser to address many different applications within the same fundamental structure.

A photograph of the first diode laser at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. The laser is mounted on the tab towards the bottom of the photograph. A then-conventional transistor header was used with its three leads going to the top of the photograph. The tab and the n-side of the p-n junction are connected to two of the header leads. A wire goes from p-side to the other header lead. From: Redicker, "Research at Lincoln Laboratory Leading Up to the Development of the Injection Laser," J. Quant. Electronics, QE-23(6), 1987


One of the first GaAs diode lasers fabricated at Lincoln Laboratory. The first Laboratory GaAs diode laser was developed in October 1962. Materials research at Lincoln Laboratory led to this tiny infrared diode laser (here mounted in a microwave diode package).

Significant references

[1] R. N. Hall, G. E. Fenner, J. D. Kingsley, T. J. Soltys, and R. O. Carlson, “Coherent light emission from GaAs junctions,” Phys. Rev. Lett., v. 9, p. 366, 1962. Media:Hall_CoherentLightEmissionFromGaAsJunctions_PhysRevLett9p366_1962.pdf <br> [2] M. I. Nathan, W. P. Dumke, G. Burns, F. H. Dill, Jr., and G. Lasher, “Stimulated emission of radiation from GaAs p-n junctions,” Appl. Phys. Lett., v. 1, p. 62, 1962. Media: Nathan_StimulatedLightEmissionfFromGaAsJunctions_APL1p62_1962.pdf <br> [3] N. Holonyak, Jr., and S. F. Bevacqua, “Coherent (visible) light emission from Ga(As1-xPx) junctions,” Appl. Phys. Lett., v. 1, p. 82, 1962. Media: Holonyak_CoherentVisibleLightEmissionFromGaAsPJunctions_APL1p82_1962.pdf <br> [4] T. M. Quist, R. H. Rediker, R. J. Keyes, W. E. Krag, B. Lax, A. L. McWhorter, H. J. Zeigler, “Semiconductor maser of GaAs,“ Appl. Phys. Lett, v. 1, p. 91, 1962. Media: Quist_SemiconductorMASERofGaAs_APL1p91_1962.pdf <br> [5] “Two Concerns Make Same Discovery,” The New York Times, November 1, 1962. Media:NYT_semiconductor_laser_article_621101.pdf <br> [6] R.N. Hall, "Injection Lasers," IEEE JOURNAL OF QUANTUM ELECTRONICS, VOL. QE-23. NO. 6, June1987. Media:Hall_InjectionLasers_JQE23p674_1987.pdf <br> [7] M.I. Nathan, "Invention of the Injection Laser at IBM," IEEE JOURNAL OF QUANTUM ELECTRONICS, VOL. QE-23, NO. 6, JUNE 1987.Media:Nathan_Invention_of_the_injection_laser_at_IBM_JQE23p679_1987.pdf<br> [8] N. Holonyak, "Semiconductor Alloy Lasers - 1962," IEEE JOURNAL OF QUANTUM ELECTRONICS, VOL. QE-23. NO. 6, JUNE 1987. Media:Holonyak_SemiconductorAlloyLasers_JQE23p684_1987.pdf<br> [9] R.H. Redicker, "Research at Lincoln Laboratory Leading upto the Development of the Injection Laser in 1962," IEEE JOURNAL OF QUANTUM ELECTRONICS. VOL. QE-21. NO. 6, JUNE 1987. Media:Rediker_Research_at_Lincoln_laboratory_leading_up_to_the_development_of_the_injection_laser_in_1962_JQE23p692_1987.pdf<br>

Supporting materials

Supporting Material: <br> Letter of support from IBM: <br> Media: IBM_Research_Support_Letter_IEEE_Milestone_Joint_Invention_of_the_Semiconductor_Laser.pdf <br> Letter of support from New York IEEE Section <br> Media: IBM_NewYorkSectionLetter_Support_IEEE_Milestone_Invention_of_Laser_Aug_25_2022.doc <br> <br>

Letter of support from MIT Lincoln Laboratory <br> Media: MIT_LL_Support_Letter_IEEE_Milestone_Joint_Invention_of_the_Semiconductor_Laser.pdf <br> Letter of support from Boston IEEE Section <br> Media: MIT_LL_BostonSection_Chair_Support_Letter_IEEE_Milestone_Joint_Invention_of_the_Semiconductor_Laser_v01.doc <br>

Letter of support from President of IEEE Photonics Society, Rene-Jean Essiambre: <br> Media: Essiambre_IPS_Letter_Support_Milestone_Semiconductor_Lasers_May03_2022.pdf