Lasers are essential tools for observing, detecting, and measuring things in the natural world that we can't see with the naked eye. But the ability to perform these tasks is often restricted by the need to use expensive and large instruments.

In a newly published cover-story paper in the journal Science, researcher Qiushi Guo demonstrates a novel approach for creating high-performance ultrafast lasers on nanophotonic chips. His work centers on miniaturizing mode-lock lasers—a unique laser that emits a train of ultrashort, coherent light pulses in femtosecond intervals, which is an astonishing quadrillionth of a second.

Ultrafast mode-locked lasers are indispensable to unlocking the secrets of the fastest timescales in nature, such as the making or breaking of molecular bonds during chemical reactions, or light propagation in a turbulent medium. The high-speed, pulse-peak intensity and broad-spectrum coverage of mode-locked lasers have also enabled numerous photonics technologies, including optical atomic clocks, biological imaging, and computers that use light to calculate and process data.

Unfortunately, state-of-the-art mode-locked lasers are currently expensive, power-demanding tabletop systems that are limited to laboratory use.

"Our 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," said Guo, a faculty member with the CUNY Advance Science Research Center's Photonics Initiative and a physics professor at the CUNY Graduate Center.

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