When I first heard that you could “grow” an LED or laser, I was shocked to say the least. I had never truly considered how solid state lasers were created until I got involved with research at the Center for Energy Efficient Materials (CEEM). Once accepted to the program I found a lab to work in and was assigned a graduate student to mentor me. The process has been very similar to an apprenticeship. In a very short span of time I have learned how to use many different tools include a scanning electron microscope (SEM) and an atomic force microscope (AFM) and the crazy reactor they use to grow the devices with.
I’ve been working with my mentor on making blue light emitting diodes (LEDs) and lasers now for a few months and it has been an amazing learning experience. Blue is of particular importance because most white LEDs you see in flashlights or LED light bulbs in for use in homes are actually blue LEDs with a phosphor layer that makes them look white. So in order to make good white lights, it is necessary to make good blue LEDs and lasers.
The process we use to grow these devices is called Metalorganic Chemical Vapor Deposition (MOCVD) which I know is a mouth full but typically is a machine that shoots various chemicals into a chamber for them to react and deposit material on top of a piece of sapphire. Sapphire is nice because it has a similar structure to the material we want to grow on top, Gallium Nitride.
It’s an amazing feeling being on the inside of science helping with the progression of knowledge. If you’re similar to me and like to read all about the latest scientific advances and all the amazing things scientists are creating then I’m sure you’ll find getting involved in research a very exciting and natural progression of this curiosity.