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Researchers have cleared a major hurdle to the practical use of nanoscale lasers, opening the way to fundamentally new capabilities in biosensing, computing, and optical communications. A team at the University of California, Berkeley, has demonstrated the first semiconductor plasmon nanolaser, or "spaser," that can operate at room temperature.

While traditional lasers work by amplifying light, spasers amplify particles called surface plasmons, which can do things that the photons in ordinary light waves can't. For instance, photons can't be confined to areas with dimensions much smaller than half their wavelength, or about 250 nanometers, limiting the extent to which optical devices can be miniaturized. Plasmons, however, can be confined in much smaller spaces and then converted into conventional light waves—making them useful for ultra-high-resolution imaging or miniaturized optical circuits that might, for example, operate 100 times faster than today's fastest electronic circuits.

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Category: Science