Faculté des sciences

Broadly tunable mid-infrared quantum cascade lasers for spectroscopic applications

Maulini, Richard ; Faist, Jérôme (Dir.)

Thèse de doctorat : Université de Neuchâtel, 2006 ; 1895.

Quantum cascade lasers are unipolar semiconductor lasers based on intersubband transitions in heterostructures. These lasers, which have demonstrated continuous wave operation at room temperature in the mid-infrared spectral range, are well suited for the realization of compact, ultra-sensitive, trace-gas sensors based on absorption spectroscopy. Up to now, only distributed feedback (DFB)... More

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    Summary
    Quantum cascade lasers are unipolar semiconductor lasers based on intersubband transitions in heterostructures. These lasers, which have demonstrated continuous wave operation at room temperature in the mid-infrared spectral range, are well suited for the realization of compact, ultra-sensitive, trace-gas sensors based on absorption spectroscopy. Up to now, only distributed feedback (DFB) single-mode devices have been used for such applications. DFB quantum cascade lasers have proven to be effective for gas sensing, but their relatively narrow tuning range, smaller or equal to about 1% of the wavelength, makes them not very versatile and limits their usefulness for spectroscopic investigations. In this thesis we developed broadly tunable external cavity quantum cascade lasers. The main advantage of these sources compared with DFBs is their broader tuning range, which is limited only by the spectral bandwidth of the gain element. We particularly studied broad gain bandwidth active regions based on bound-to-continuum designs. With that kind of active region, we have demonstrated a tuning range equal to 15% of the center wavelength at ~ 10 m, which was three times broader than the best values reported in the literature at that time, as well as good performance in pulsed mode at room temperature. Using a strain-compensated bound-to-continuum design emitting near 5.2 m, we have demonstrated for the first time continuous-wave operation of an external cavity quantum cascade laser on a thermoelectric cooler. The tuning range was comparable to that of pulsed devices, but with a much better side-mode suppression ratio and a much narrower linewidth. This continuous-wave device has successfully been applied to the spectroscopy of nitric oxide in collaboration with Prof. Tittel's Laser Science Group at Rice University. High resolution absorption spectra of that gas could be acquired over a large wavelength range. We also studied heterogeneous cascade structures, that is quantum cascade structures in which the various stages emit at several different wavelengths, as a way to increase further the tuning range of external cavity quantum cascade lasers. A pulsed laser tunable from 8.2 to 10.4 m, that is over 24% of the center wavelength has been realized using an active region composed of two substacks of bound-to-continuum designs. We conclude on the feasibility of room temperature, continuous-wave, broadly-tunable external cavity quantum cascade lasers in the mid-infrared spectral range. These devices will be useful for the analysis of multi-component gases, for high resolution spectroscopic investigations in fundamental science, and for the detection of heavy molecules with broad absorption features which DFB quantum cascade lasers cannot scan entirely.