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Scientists have created a revolutionarily small ultrafast mode-locked laser system.

An ultrafast mode-locked laser system is a type of system that generates extremely short pulses of light on the order of femtoseconds or picoseconds. Their versatility means they are a highly valuable tool in a wide range of scientific, industrial, and medical applications. Examples include optical atomic clocks, biological imaging, and computers that use light to calculate and process data. The issue is that these lasers are large and expensive, therefore impractical for constant use.

However, researchers have recently created a version of these devices that can fit on the tip of a finger or a nanophotonic chip. Lead researcher Qiushi Guo claims that their goal is “to revolutionize the field of ultrafast photonics by transforming large lab-based systems into chip-sized ones that can be mass-produced and field deployed.”

Guo clarified that the main aim of his team was to guarantee that these incredibly rapid, chip-sized lasers could provide a small size with satisfactory performance, and for that, they would need to create devices that could produce sufficient pulse-peak intensity (preferably greater than 1 Watt).

According to Interesting Engineering, making efficient mode-locked lasers small enough to fit on a chip was a very difficult task, to overcome which Guo’s team used thin-film lithium niobate (a well-known crystalline material with unique optical, electro-optic, and piezoelectric properties) to engineer a tiny laser with a high output peak power of 0.5 Watt.

The technology’s qualities have significant implications for laser-based applications in the future, and with this latest demonstration, Guo’s group has crossed a significant barrier toward the realization of scalable, integrated, ultrafast photonic systems that can be implemented in portable and handheld devices.

The researchers report that they intend to keep developing this technology to enable it to operate at even shorter timescales and higher peak powers, which would be a 100-fold improvement over the current devices, which produce pulses that are 4.8 picoseconds in length.

Guo concluded- “This achievement paves the way for eventually using cell phones to diagnose eye diseases or analyzing food and environments for things like E. coli and dangerous viruses. It could also enable futuristic chip-scale atomic clocks, which allows navigation when GPS is compromised or unavailable.”