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Feezell receives NSF CAREER award to study blue and green vertical-cavity lasers

January 15, 2015 - By Kim Delker

Daniel Feezell, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of New Mexico, has received a $500,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award.
The award, which begins March 1 and continues through February 2020, is for a project titled "Short-Wavelength Vertical-Cavity Surface-Emitting Laser Arrays Using Nonpolar and Semipolar GaN."

Feezell said the basic thrust of the project is to develop arrays of blue and green vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) with stable polarization of the light emission by using novel orientations of the semiconductor material gallium nitride (GaN).

He said the vertical geometry of VCSELs has several advantages over conventional edge-emitting lasers, including high beam quality, small form factor, the ability to form densely-packed arrays, and lower power consumption. Feezell’s work will focus on adding stable polarization and increasing the output power using arrays.

Applications of this technology could include improved high-density optical data storage and high-resolution printing, improved mobile displays and projectors, and advancements in chemical/biological sensing and atomic clocks.

One example of a possible practical application would be the addition of projection capabilities on smartphones. Feezell said such a projector could be included on the back of the phone, right next to the camera.

"This would allow your phone to become a display projector, so you could view movies, pictures, or PowerPoint slides on the wall or on a screen instead of directly on your phone," Feezell said. "You could basically have a projector in your pocket."

Feezell said he will also be researching how to create a green VCSEL, which has not yet been developed. Red and blue VCSELs have been developed, and adding a green VCSEL would complete the RGB (red, green, blue) spectrum, allowing for the creation of white light, which makes possible technologies such as display screens or LED light bulbs for room lighting and other uses.

Much of the work on the project will be done at UNM's Center for High-Technology Materials, and some will be done in collaboration with the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia National Laboratories.

One graduate student will be funded by the project, and the project will also include an outreach effort with Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), an Albuquerque national Indian community college and land-grant institution serving American Indian and Alaskan Native students. Outreach activities will include assessing the potential of installing energy-efficient, solid-state lighting in rural Native American communities, mentoring local teachers, and developing courses at UNM.

Feezell said he believes that GaN-based VCSELs hold untapped potential.

"I love this particular topic of GaN-based VCSELs," he said. "It's still an immature field and many of the applications are still not developed or known."

Feezell, who came to UNM about three years ago from the University of California, Santa Barbara, said the award is important to this area of study as well as to him personally as a researcher.

"Getting this grant will allow me to continue my research in this area, which I've been working on for the last five or six years," he said. "Very few groups are working in this area, and the hope is that this grant will enable UNM and my research group to become leaders in the development and application of GaN-based VCSELs."

The NSF CAREER program is geared toward helping early-career faculty get strong starts on their academic careers. The award is NSF's most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the community. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.