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Celebrating 50 years of the diode laser

By Hamish Johnston

Semiconductor diode lasers are everywhere. They created the light pulses that raced along the fibres between our server and yours – allowing you to read this article – and if you stop at the supermarket on the way home, their light will read the barcodes on your purchases.

diode laser.jpg
A few years ago I would have also pointed out that CD and DVD players rely on diode lasers, but those once-revolutionary technologies have already become passé while diode lasers have gone on to new and exciting applications such as healthcare.

So what does the image on the right – which looks more like a bent paperclip than a state-of-the-art laser – have to do with this revolutionary technology? It is the first diode laser (also called an “injection laser”) and was made in 1962 at the Lebedev Institute in Moscow. The institute was home to a group of scientists formed in 1957 by Nikolay Basov with the aim of creating a semiconductor laser. The team succeeded, and Basov’s pioneering efforts in the development of lasers earned him a share of the 1964 Nobel Prize for Physics – along with his institute colleague Aleksandr Prokhorov and Charles Townes of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

One member of Basov’s team was Yuri Popov, who is still at the institute and who has written a historical account of the group’s effort for a special issue of the journal Semiconductor Science and Technology – published by IOP Publishing, which also produces Physics World.

As well as historical papers documenting the development of the diode laser, the special issue also contains a number of invited papers that look at a range of contemporary research, including quantum-dot-based lasers and cascade lasers for the generation of terahertz radiation.

And if you can’t get enough about diode lasers, the Institute of Physics is putting on a conference in Leicester in September called The Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Diode Laser.

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