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Optics Express

Optics Express

  • Editor: C. Martijn de Sterke
  • Vol. 17, Iss. 25 — Dec. 7, 2009
  • pp: 23265–23271
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Ultra-low-threshold Er:Yb sol-gel microlaser on silicon

Hsiu-Sheng Hsu, Can Cai, and Andrea M. Armani  »View Author Affiliations


Optics Express, Vol. 17, Issue 25, pp. 23265-23271 (2009)
http://dx.doi.org/10.1364/OE.17.023265


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Abstract

Ultra-low threshold lasers which operate in the telecommunications band and which can be integrated with other CMOS compatible elements have numerous applications in satellite communications, biochemical detection and optical computing. To achieve sub-mW lasing thresholds, it is necessary to optimize both the gain medium and the pump method. One of the most promising methods is to use rare-earth ions in a co- or tri-dopant configuration, where the lasing of the primary dopant is enhanced by the secondary one, thus improving the efficiency of the overall system. Here, we demonstrate an Erbium:Ytterbium co-doped microcavity-based laser which is lithographically fabricated on a silicon substrate. The quality factor and pump threshold are experimentally determined for a series of erbium and ytterbium doping concentrations, verifying the inter-dependent relationship between the two dopants. The lasing threshold of the optimized device is 4.2 μW.

© 2009 OSA

1. Introduction

Ultra-low threshold lasers which operate in the telecommunications band and which can be integrated with other CMOS compatible elements have numerous applications in biochemical detection [1

1. J. Yang and L. J. Guo, “Optical sensors based on active microcavities,” IEEE J. Sel. Top. Quantum Electron. 12(1), 143–147 ( 2006). [CrossRef]

,2

2. C. Monat, P. Domachuk, and B. J. Eggleton, “Integrated optofluidics: A new river of light,” Nat. Photonics 1(2), 106–114 ( 2007). [CrossRef]

], satellite communications [3

3. M. Guelman, A. Kogan, A. Kazarian, A. Livne, M. Orenstein, H. Michalik, and S. Arnon, “Acquisition and pointing control for inter-satellite laser communications,” IEEE Trans. Aerosp. Electron. Syst. 40(4), 1239–1248 ( 2004). [CrossRef]

,4

4. Y. Jeong, C. Alegria, J. K. Sahu, L. Fu, M. Ibsen, C. Codemard, M. R. Mokhtar, and J. Nilsson, “A 43-W C-band tunable narrow-linewidth erbium-ytterbium codoped large-core fiber laser,” IEEE Photon. Technol. Lett. 16(3), 756–758 ( 2004). [CrossRef]

] and optical computing [5

5. G. T. Reed, “Device physics: the optical age of silicon,” Nature 427(6975), 595–596 ( 2004). [CrossRef] [PubMed]

11

11. H. Cao, J. Y. Xu, W. H. Xiang, Y. Ma, S. H. Chang, S. T. Ho, and G. S. Solomon, “Optically pumped InAs quantum dot microdisk lasers,” Appl. Phys. Lett. 76(24), 3519–3521 ( 2000). [CrossRef]

]. To achieve sub-mW lasing thresholds, it is necessary to optimize both the gain medium and the pump method. One of the most promising methods is to use rare-earth ions in a co- or tri-dopant configuration, where the lasing of the primary dopant is enhanced by the secondary one, thus improving the efficiency of the overall system [12

12. A. F. Obaton, C. Parent, G. Le Flem, P. Thony, A. Brenier, and G. Boulon, “Yb3+-Er3+-codoped LaLiP4O12 glass: a new eye-safe laser at 1535 nm,” J. Alloy. Comp. 300-301(1-2), 123–130 ( 2000). [CrossRef]

18

18. Y. J. Chen, Y. F. Lin, X. H. Gong, Z. D. Luo, and Y. D. Huang, “1.1 W diode-pumped Er:Yb laser at 1520 nm,” Opt. Lett. 32(18), 2759–2761 ( 2007). [CrossRef] [PubMed]

].

In this work, we demonstrate an ultra-low threshold microlaser by combining the large optical cross section of Er3+:Yb3+ co-doped sol-gel and with the high circulating intensities present in ultra-high-Q optical microcavities. In this configuration, Erbium is the primary dopant, and Ytterbium acts as the sensitizer. The microlasers are fabricated in arrays on a silicon wafer from co-doped sol-gel using a combination of planar photolithography and laser reflow. To fully characterize the microlaser and optimize its performance, several different experimental studies are performed, which required making a series of Er3+:Yb3+ co-doped sol-gels in different relative concentrations. As such, both single-mode and multimode Er3+:Yb3+ laser based on a microtoroid optical resonator is observed in the C-band (1550 nm). The lasing threshold is 4.2 μW, and we believe this is the lowest threshold yet achieved with a Er3+:Yb3+ co-doped laser.

2. Fabrication of microlaser and experimental set-up

2.1 Sol-gel preparation

Specifically, to make the sol-gel, tetraethoxysilane (TEOS) was mixed with ethanol. The solution was then hydrolyzed by adding water with a 2:1 molar ratio of water to TEOS. Hydrochloric acid is introduced as the catalyst to initiate the gelation. Ytterbium nitrate and erbium nitrate are added to the solution in the desired Yb3+, Er3+ concentration. The entire mixture is stirred with a magnetic stirrer at room temperature for 2 hr. The Er3+:Yb3+ co-doped silica sol-gel is spun onto silicon chip and subsequently annealed at 1000°C for 3 hrs. The annealing time and temperature is determined by comparing an FTIR spectra of thermally grown oxide with that of a pure (undoped) sol-gel silica. After 3 hrs, the two spectra are nearly identical, verifying that the sol-gel silica process is optimized. As characterized using both ellipsometry and profilometry, the thickness of the sol-gel silica film is about 1.2 μm after four cycles of spin-coating and thermal annealing.

2.2 Fabrication of devices

2.3 Experimental set-up

A single-frequency, tunable, 980nm CW narrow linewidth (<300 kHz) external cavity laser is used to perform all of the laser and optical device characterization measurements on the co-doped microlaser. Tapered optical fiber waveguides are used to evanescently couple light in and out of the resonator. They are a high-efficiency, evanescent method of coupling light to and from the resonant cavities [35

35. D. W. Vernooy, V. S. Ilchenko, H. Mabuchi, E. W. Streed, and H. J. Kimble, “High-Q measurements of fused-silica microspheres in the near infrared,” Opt. Lett. 23(4), 247–249 ( 1998). [CrossRef] [PubMed]

,36

36. M. Cai and K. Vahala, “Highly efficient hybrid fiber taper coupled microsphere laser,” Opt. Lett. 26(12), 884–886 ( 2001). [CrossRef] [PubMed]

]. To control the air gap between the taper and the toroid, which determines the cavity lasing performance, the sample is mounted on a three-axis nano-translator for position control. A top and side machine vision system is used to continuously monitor the position of the toroid resonator and the taper. Taper fibers for testing at 980/1550 nm were pulled from SMF-28 optical fiber to an average waist diameter of 1μm. The quality factor is determined by scanning the single-mode laser and measuring both the transmission and the loaded linewidth (full width at half-maximum) in the under-coupled regime. The laser scan frequency is optimized to ensure that neither scan direction (increasing frequency versus decreasing frequency) nor scan frequency has any observable impact on linewidth. The coupling conditions and the position of the resonant frequency are recorded on the computer (NI digitizer, 2GS/s real-time sampling).

A fiber-based 980/1550 nm WDM filter (19 dB isolation) is used to isolate the pump light from the laser emission. An optical spectrum analyzer (OSA) with resolution of 0.02 nm and a power meter were used to characterize the microlaser performance. The resonant frequency position, linewidth and resonator-taper gap were continuously monitored while the lasing spectra were acquired. In these measurements, coupling into and out of the resonator was approximately 50%. It is not expected to achieve critical coupling because a single waveguide is used and the excitation/emission wavelength are significantly spectrally separated.

3. Experimental results and discussion

We can observe single-mode or multi-mode lasing action between 1520 to 1570nm. The lasing is coupled back into the same optical fiber used for excitation, enabling direct measurement on an optical spectrum analyzer. A typical single-mode lasing spectrum is shown in Fig. 3(a)
Fig. 3 Single-mode and multi-mode lasing spectra. (a) Typical emission spectrum of single-mode Er3+:Yb3+ co-doped microtoroid laser. The insert is a top-view photograph of testing setup of a Er3+:Yb3+ co-doped microtoroid laser coupled by a fiber taper. (b) Typical emission spectrum of a multi-mode Er:Yb co-doped microtoroid laser. The spacing between the lasing lines is the free spectral range of the resonant cavity.
. The ability to easily achieve ultra low threshold, single mode lasing is a result of the relatively few higher-order, high Q optical modes present in microtoroid optical cavities and is one of the advantages of using a planar geometry such as a microtoroid or microring resonator which inherently suppresses the azimuthal modes of the cavity which can act as parasitic loss in microsphere resonant cavities [26

26. L. Yang, T. Carmon, B. Min, S. M. Spillane, and K. J. Vahala, “Erbium-doped and Raman microlasers on a silicon chip fabricated by the sol-gel process,” Appl. Phys. Lett. 86(9), 3 ( 2005). [CrossRef]

]. Additionally, the mode volume of a microtoroid is smaller than that of a microsphere. Figure 3(b) shows a multi-mode lasing spectra of a 40μm diameter device. The spacing between the lasing lines corresponds with the free-spectral range (FSR) of the microtoroid resonator, which is approximately 13nm and is in good agreement with the theoretically predicted value. Therefore, using a single platform, it is possible to controllably adjust between single and multi-mode lasing.

The lasing threshold of a single-mode microlaser is determined as detailed previously, and a threshold of 4.2μW is demonstrated (Fig. 4
Fig. 4 Measured laser output power as a function of absorbed pump power for an Er3+:Yb3+ co-doped microlaser with principal diameter of 40 μm. The lasing threshold is 4.2 μW with pump wavelength at 980 nm and lasing wavelength at 1552 nm.
). Above threshold, the laser output power increases linearly with the absorbed pump power as shown in Fig. 4. This ultralow threshold is a result of the high quality factor of the device, small mode volume of the microtoroid, and homogeneous distribution of the co-dopants inside the toroid, which enables the optimized overlap between the pump modes and active region [26

26. L. Yang, T. Carmon, B. Min, S. M. Spillane, and K. J. Vahala, “Erbium-doped and Raman microlasers on a silicon chip fabricated by the sol-gel process,” Appl. Phys. Lett. 86(9), 3 ( 2005). [CrossRef]

]. It is important to note that while recent Er3+:Yb3+ co-doped lasers based on microsphere resonant cavities have demonstrated thresholds of 30μW to 50μW, a lithographically fabricated co-doped Er3+:Yb3+ microlaser has never been demonstrated to the author’s knowledge [39

39. C. H. Dong, Y. F. Xiao, Z. F. Han, G. C. Guo, X. S. Jiang, L. M. Tong, C. Gu, and H. Ming, “Low-threshold microlaser in Er: Yb phosphate glass coated microsphere,” IEEE Photon. Technol. Lett. 20(5), 342–344 ( 2008). [CrossRef]

,40

40. Y. F. Xiao, C. H. Dong, C. L. Zou, Z. F. Han, L. Yang, and G. C. Guo, “Low-threshold microlaser in a high-Q asymmetrical microcavity,” Opt. Lett. 34(4), 509–511 ( 2009). [CrossRef] [PubMed]

].

Generally, low doping concentrations result in a low threshold power as shown in Fig. 5
Fig. 5 Microlaser threshold dependence on co-dopant concentration. The threshold was determined for a series of different doping concentrations of erbium and ytterbium ions. (a) Operation of Er3+ concentration with 0.25 wt% Yb3+ concentration. (b) Operation of Yb3+ concentration with 0.05 wt% Er3+ concentration. The minimum threshold achieved is 4.2μW at Er3+ concentration of 0.05 wt% and Yb3+ concentration of 0.075 wt%. While the Q factor changes with dopant concentration, as detailed in Fig. 2, all other potential variables (coupling condition, 980nm laser coupling efficiency, toroid diameter, etc) are held constant for all measurements.
. By varying the doping concentration of erbium and ytterbium independently, we verified this effect in the present co-dopant system, by determining the threshold at each concentration. As shown in Fig. 5, the minimum threshold is at an erbium concentration of 0.05 wt% and ytterbium concentration of 0.075 wt%. Above 0.05 wt% concentration of erbium ions, the threshold power increases from concentration dependent loss mechanism, such as ion-pair induced quenching. The threshold increases again at low concentrations because erbium ions cannot give sufficient gain for loss compensation. Similarly, for ytterbium concentrations greater than 0.075 wt%, the pump threshold increases because it needs the additional pump power to compensate for the loss from unpumped ytterbium ions. Below 0.075 wt% concentration of ytterbium ions, the lasing threshold raises because the doping ytterbium concentration is not high enough to overcome the intrinsic loss of the cavity and to transfer energy from Yb3+ to Er3+ efficiently. It should be noted that other commonly seen effects in co-doped lasers, such as the upconversion of Er and simultaneous lasing at both 1040nm and 1550nm resulting from both Yb3+ and Er3+ excitation, were also seen at different Er:Yb concentration ratios. Comparing these results with the cavity Q factors, the mechanism of lasing action in co-doped systems is more complex than in single dopant systems. It is a result of the different emission and absorption cross sections of two dopants, the spatial selectivity of the pump, and the method of energy transfer.

3. Conclusion

In summary, we have fabricated an ultralow threshold Er3+:Yb3+ co-doped toroidal microlaser on a silicon chip. To enable lithographic fabrication of these co-doped devices, we developed a sol-gel synthesis process which formed a uniform host matrix for the co-dopants. We have demonstrated single-mode and multimode lasing action by adjusting the coupling conditions. We verified that the quality factor and pump threshold depend strongly on both the doping concentration and the specific dopant. The lasing threshold is as low as 4.2μW, which is more than seven times lower than the previously reported lowest threshold to date for a Er3+:Yb3+ co-doped laser, which was based on a microsphere resonant cavity [39

39. C. H. Dong, Y. F. Xiao, Z. F. Han, G. C. Guo, X. S. Jiang, L. M. Tong, C. Gu, and H. Ming, “Low-threshold microlaser in Er: Yb phosphate glass coated microsphere,” IEEE Photon. Technol. Lett. 20(5), 342–344 ( 2008). [CrossRef]

]. Ultra-low threshold on-chip microlasers are easily integrated with other silicon-based components, paving the way for improved signal processing [5

5. G. T. Reed, “Device physics: the optical age of silicon,” Nature 427(6975), 595–596 ( 2004). [CrossRef] [PubMed]

11

11. H. Cao, J. Y. Xu, W. H. Xiang, Y. Ma, S. H. Chang, S. T. Ho, and G. S. Solomon, “Optically pumped InAs quantum dot microdisk lasers,” Appl. Phys. Lett. 76(24), 3519–3521 ( 2000). [CrossRef]

], biochemical detection [1

1. J. Yang and L. J. Guo, “Optical sensors based on active microcavities,” IEEE J. Sel. Top. Quantum Electron. 12(1), 143–147 ( 2006). [CrossRef]

,2

2. C. Monat, P. Domachuk, and B. J. Eggleton, “Integrated optofluidics: A new river of light,” Nat. Photonics 1(2), 106–114 ( 2007). [CrossRef]

] and free-space communication [3

3. M. Guelman, A. Kogan, A. Kazarian, A. Livne, M. Orenstein, H. Michalik, and S. Arnon, “Acquisition and pointing control for inter-satellite laser communications,” IEEE Trans. Aerosp. Electron. Syst. 40(4), 1239–1248 ( 2004). [CrossRef]

,4

4. Y. Jeong, C. Alegria, J. K. Sahu, L. Fu, M. Ibsen, C. Codemard, M. R. Mokhtar, and J. Nilsson, “A 43-W C-band tunable narrow-linewidth erbium-ytterbium codoped large-core fiber laser,” IEEE Photon. Technol. Lett. 16(3), 756–758 ( 2004). [CrossRef]

].

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Prof. Mark Thompson at the University of Southern California for aid in the sol-gel preparation. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation [0852581], and the Army Research Lab [W911NF-09-0041]. H. Hsu was supported by an Alfred Mann Institute Graduate Research Fellowship. C. Cai was supported by a William Lacey Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

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4.

Y. Jeong, C. Alegria, J. K. Sahu, L. Fu, M. Ibsen, C. Codemard, M. R. Mokhtar, and J. Nilsson, “A 43-W C-band tunable narrow-linewidth erbium-ytterbium codoped large-core fiber laser,” IEEE Photon. Technol. Lett. 16(3), 756–758 ( 2004). [CrossRef]

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G. T. Reed, “Device physics: the optical age of silicon,” Nature 427(6975), 595–596 ( 2004). [CrossRef] [PubMed]

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12.

A. F. Obaton, C. Parent, G. Le Flem, P. Thony, A. Brenier, and G. Boulon, “Yb3+-Er3+-codoped LaLiP4O12 glass: a new eye-safe laser at 1535 nm,” J. Alloy. Comp. 300-301(1-2), 123–130 ( 2000). [CrossRef]

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I. K. Battisha, “Visible up-conversion photoluminescence from IR diode-pumped SiO2-TiO2 nano-composite films heavily doped with Er3+-Yb3+ and Nd3+-Yb3+,” J. Non-Cryst. Solids 353(18-21), 1748–1754 ( 2007). [CrossRef]

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35.

D. W. Vernooy, V. S. Ilchenko, H. Mabuchi, E. W. Streed, and H. J. Kimble, “High-Q measurements of fused-silica microspheres in the near infrared,” Opt. Lett. 23(4), 247–249 ( 1998). [CrossRef] [PubMed]

36.

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39.

C. H. Dong, Y. F. Xiao, Z. F. Han, G. C. Guo, X. S. Jiang, L. M. Tong, C. Gu, and H. Ming, “Low-threshold microlaser in Er: Yb phosphate glass coated microsphere,” IEEE Photon. Technol. Lett. 20(5), 342–344 ( 2008). [CrossRef]

40.

Y. F. Xiao, C. H. Dong, C. L. Zou, Z. F. Han, L. Yang, and G. C. Guo, “Low-threshold microlaser in a high-Q asymmetrical microcavity,” Opt. Lett. 34(4), 509–511 ( 2009). [CrossRef] [PubMed]

OCIS Codes
(160.5690) Materials : Rare-earth-doped materials
(140.3948) Lasers and laser optics : Microcavity devices

ToC Category:
Lasers and Laser Optics

History
Original Manuscript: October 30, 2009
Revised Manuscript: December 1, 2009
Manuscript Accepted: December 2, 2009
Published: December 3, 2009

Citation
Hsiu-Sheng Hsu, Can Cai, and Andrea M. Armani, "Ultra-low-threshold Er:Yb sol-gel microlaser on silicon," Opt. Express 17, 23265-23271 (2009)
http://www.opticsinfobase.org/oe/abstract.cfm?URI=oe-17-25-23265


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References

  1. J. Yang and L. J. Guo, “Optical sensors based on active microcavities,” IEEE J. Sel. Top. Quantum Electron. 12(1), 143–147 (2006). [CrossRef]
  2. C. Monat, P. Domachuk, and B. J. Eggleton, “Integrated optofluidics: A new river of light,” Nat. Photonics 1(2), 106–114 (2007). [CrossRef]
  3. M. Guelman, A. Kogan, A. Kazarian, A. Livne, M. Orenstein, H. Michalik, and S. Arnon, “Acquisition and pointing control for inter-satellite laser communications,” IEEE Trans. Aerosp. Electron. Syst. 40(4), 1239–1248 (2004). [CrossRef]
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