For the first time, researchers from Cardiff University have grown a practical laster directly on a silicon substrate. The breakthrough, dubbed the "Holy Grail" of silicon photonics, is believed to be the key to ultra-fast communication between computer chips and electronic systems and may lead to the transformation of numerous sectors including communications, health care and energy generation.

In the realm of electronic device fabrication, silicon is the most widely used material. It is commonly used in the creation of semiconductors, which are present in almost every piece of technology that we encounter in our day-to-day lives, including smartphones and GPS systems.

The recent advancements in electronic devices means an increased demand for the technology that drives them. As the years go by, researchers are having an increasingly harder time meeting these demands using the standard electrical interconnects between computer chips and systems, causing them to look at light for its potential to act as an ultra-fast connector.

The ideal source of light is a semiconductor laser combined with silicon, but thus far researchers have had a difficult time making this a reality. Now, the current team has overcome these difficulties and grown a practical laser on a silicon substrate for the very first time.

"Realizing electrically-pumped lasers based on Si substrates is a fundamental step towards silicon photonics," said Huiyun Liu, who led the research, stating that the laser, which is 1,300 nanometers in wavelength, can operate at temperatures of up to 120 degrees Celsius for up to 100,000 hours.

He added: "The precise outcomes of such a step are impossible to predict in their entirety, but it will clearly transform computing and the digital economy, revolutionize health care through patient monitoring, and provide a step-change in energy efficiency."

"The techniques that we have developed permit us to realize the Holy Grail of silicon photonics - an efficient and reliable electrically driven semiconductor laser directly integrated on a silicon substrate," concluded Alwyn Seeds, coauthor of the study. "Our future work will be aimed at integrating these lasers with waveguides and drive electronics leading to a comprehensive technology for the integration of photonics with silicon electronics."

The findings were published in the Mar. 7 issue of Nature Photonics.