Choquette wins 2008 LEOS Engineering Achievement Award
Tom Moone, ECE Illinois
- Prof. Kent Choquette was named the 2008 recipient of the Engineering Achievement Award from the LEOS.
- The IEEE/LEOS Engineering Achievement Award recognizes an exceptional engineering contribution within the past 10 years that has had a significant impact on the development of laser or electro-optic technology or on the commercial application of technology.
- Choquette's primary research on this field has been with the VCSEL,a laser diode that emits light in a cylindrical beam vertically from the surface of a fabricated wafer.
ECE Professor Kent D. Choquette has been named the recipient of the 2008 Engineering Achievement Award from the Lasers and Electro-Optics Society (LEOS), a society within IEEE. Choquette received this award for development of the monolithic selectively oxidized vertical cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL). The award will be presented to Choquette at the annual LEOS meeting in November.
The IEEE/LEOS Engineering Achievement Award recognizes an exceptional engineering contribution within the past 10 years that has had a significant impact on the development of laser or electro-optic technology or on the commercial application of technology.
A VCSEL is a laser diode that emits light in a cylindrical beam vertically from the surface of a fabricated wafer. “I’ve been working on VCSELs since I left grad school in 1990,” said Choquette. “When I started working on them, they were a laboratory curiosity. Cool devices, but no one really knew what to do with them.”
It is because of the work of researchers such as Choquette that these devices are no longer looked upon as curiosities. And, though he was working at Sandia National Laboratories at the time he made his innovation, Choquette’s contribution already had an Illinois connection. Choquette recalled reading about the process of oxidizing high-aluminum-containing semiconductor materials in an article written by Nick Holonyak, Jr, who holds the John Bardeen Endowed Chair in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Physics at Illinois.
Though at first Choquette did not recognize the possibilities of this oxidizing process, a couple years later he adapted the process for use in creating VCSELs. Benefits were immediately apparent. “It was sort of a revolutionary advance,” said Choquette, “with significant improvements to reducing threshold current and output power.” As a result of Choquette’s research and innovations, other researchers and companies that were starting to manufacture VCSELs quickly switched over the new process.
Because of the contributions of Choquette and others to the development of VCSELs, uses for these devices have been discovered in communications and data transfer, as well as in computer laser mouse devices. VCSELs have become a photonics industry and are now being manufactured at a rate approaching 10 million per month.
Choquette is now looking to the next generation of VCSEL research. “VCSELs are considered a one-dimensional photonic crystal,” he said. “What we’re looking at now is a two-dimensional photonic crystal. Very simply, you take a semiconductor membrane, and you etch a pattern of holes in it. That can create a tiny laser cavity, and changes the properties of the emission coming out of the laser.” Currently, this is still in the research stage, and it will be several years before these would be used in applications.
However, Choquette sees similarities between his VCSEL research and what he is currently working on. “In 1990, when I started working on VCSELs, the problem with VCSELs was that they were impractical,” he said. “Over the years, we made it into a very practical industry. The photonic crystal membrane lasers are at this same stage. They’re still a curiosity. They’re still impractical.” Choquette is excited about the potential for these laser structures.
In addition to this award from LEOS, Choquette has received numerous campus and international recognitions. He has received the IEEE/LEOS Distinguished Lecture Awards in 2000 and 2001. He was elected to the Board of Governors of LEOS for 2006-2008. He is a Fellow of IEEE, the Optical Society of America, and the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE). Choquette received an Engineering Council Award for Excellence in Advising in 2004 and 2005. And he was named a Sony Faculty Scholar for the 2004-05, 2005-06, and 2006-07 school years.
Since joining ECE in 2000, Choquette has been teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in the area of semiconductor devices. “The reason I’m at Illinois is I like to teach,” he said. “I like to do research—it’s exciting. But at this point, I would also like to communicate that excitement to others.”