Mark Sherwin and team produce multiple frequencies of light simultaneously

Mark Sherwin's group has succeeded in creating multiple frequencies of light simultaneously. By aiming high- and low-frequency laser beams at a semiconductor, the researchers caused electrons to be ripped from their cores, accelerated, and then smashed back into the cores they left behind. This recollision produced multiple frequencies of light simultaneously. Their findings appear in the current issue of the science journal Nature.

When the high-frequency optical laser beam hits the semiconductor material –– in this case, gallium arsenide nanostructures –– it creates an electron-hole pair called an exciton. The electron is negatively charged, and the hole is positively charged, and the two are bound together by their mutual attraction. "The high-frequency laser creates electrons and holes," Sherwin explained. "The very strong, low-frequency free electron laser beam rips the electron away from the hole and accelerates it. As the low-frequency field oscillates, it causes the electron to come careening back to the hole." The electron has excess energy because it has been accelerated, and when it slams back into the hole, the recombined electron-hole pair emits photons at new frequencies.

In terms of real-world applications, the electron-hole recollision phenomenon has the potential to significantly increase the speed of data transfer and communication processes. One possible application involves multiplexing –– the ability to send data down multiple channels –– and another is high-speed modulation.

"Think of your cable Internet," explained Ben Zaks, a UCSB doctoral student in physics and the paper's lead author. "The cable is a bundle of fiber optics, and you're sending a beam with a wavelength that's approximately 1.5 microns down the line. But within that beam there are a lot of frequencies separated by small gaps, like a fine-toothed comb. Information going one way moves on one frequency, and information going another way uses another frequency. You want to have a lot of frequencies available, but not too far from one another."

The electron-hole recollision phenomenon does just that –– it creates light at new frequencies, with optimal separation between them.

Artist rendition of electron-hole recollision (credit: Peter Allen)
Mark Sherwin and Ben Zaks