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Coleman receives SPIE Technology Award

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By Reema Amin, ECE ILLINOIS
May 23, 2011

  • ECE Professor James Coleman recently received the 2011 Technology Achievement Award from SPIE - International Society for Optics and Photonics.
  • Coleman was recognized for his work on selective area epitaxy, which involves creating different semiconductor layers on a chip that are capable of photonic activity.
  • He is continuing the work into the realm of nanotechnology.

James J. Coleman
James J. Coleman

ECE Professor James J. Coleman recently received the 2011 Technology Achievement Award from SPIE – International Society for Optics and Photonics. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in optics, electro-optics, photonic engineering, or imaging. The citation reads “for seminal contributions to the methods, designs, and demonstrations of selectively grown discrete and monolithically integrated compound semiconductor lasers and photonic devices.”

Coleman, a researcher in the Micro and Nanotechnology Lab and the Coordinated Science Lab, was honored for spearheading improvements in processes for integrated photonic “chips”, which can be used for light-based systems such as light wave telecommunications. He and various teams of graduate students have been developing the chip since the early 1990s, and Coleman emphasized that accomplishments resulted from those collaborations.

“I want to stress that I didn’t do all of this on my own. This is a body of work shared by a large number of students and colleagues,” Coleman said.

The particular project being recognized is Coleman’s research on selective area epitaxy. This process involves creating different layers of semiconductor material in different places on a chip, each capable of different photonic functionality. With selective area epitaxy, more functions are available on a single integrated platform rather than on multiple chips. This ultimately allows for light-based devices to be smaller, faster and cheaper much like electronic integrated circuits.

Their work is continuing into the realm of nanotechnology. “It’s the same basic process, but we've been making the masks smaller and smaller—into the quantum regime. It’s definitely the trend in any technology, and particularly in the electronic and photonic fields,” Coleman said. “The idea is to get more lasers and photonic devices into smaller devices to do the same, or more, work with less power.”

Coleman said he has research interests in novel lasers, laser diodes, and photonic devices, but this project happened to be the one that was recognized. Besides making more compact photonic chips, he said he is interested in nanoscale structuring for other devices in the photonics area, such as photovoltaics.

But as products get smaller and more complex—something consumers are continually demanding—the details become more intricate. The concept is often clear regarding how to make complex objects more compact, but Coleman said the development aspect can be very difficult to implement.

“Each time we move downward in size, we really move upward in complexity,” he said.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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