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NSF awards $500k to develop arrays of blue and green VCSELS

Project could turn smartphones into projectors

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $500,000 Faculty Early Career Development award to Daniel Feezell at the University of New Mexico to study VCELS. The 'Short-Wavelength Vertical-Cavity Surface-Emitting Laser Arrays Using Nonpolar and Semipolar GaN' project begins in March and continues through February 2020.

The goal is to develop arrays of blue and green VCSELs with stable polarisation of the light emission by using novel orientations of the GaN. Applications of this technology, according to Feezzell, could include improved high-density optical data storage and high-resolution printing, improved mobile displays and projectors, and advancements in chemical/biological sensing and atomic clocks.

One example of a possible practical application would be the addition of projection capabilities on smartphones. Feezell said such a projector could be included on the back of the phone, right next to the camera.

"This would allow your phone to become a display projector, so you could view movies, pictures, or PowerPoint slides on the wall or on a screen instead of directly on your phone," Feezell said. "You could basically have a projector in your pocket."

He said the vertical geometry of VCSELs has several advantages over conventional edge-emitting lasers, including high beam quality, small form factor, the ability to form densely-packed arrays, and lower power consumption. Feezell's work will focus on adding stable polarization and increasing the output power using arrays.

Feezell said he will also be researching how to create a green VCSEL, which has not yet been developed. Red and blue VCSELs have been developed, and adding a green VCSEL would complete the RGB (red, green, blue) spectrum, allowing for the creation of white light, which makes possible technologies such as display screens or LED light bulbs for room lighting and other uses.

Much of the work on the project will be done at UNM's Center for High-Technology Materials, and some will be done in collaboration with the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia National Laboratories.

Feezell said he believes that GaN-based VCSELs hold untapped potential. "I love this particular topic of GaN-based VCSELs," he said. "It's still an immature field and many of the applications are still not developed or known."

The NSF CAREER program is geared toward helping early-career faculty get strong starts on their academic careers. The award is NSF's most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the community. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

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