Research Article

Topological insulator laser: Experiments

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Science  16 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6381, eaar4005
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar4005

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Topological protection for lasers

Ideas based on topology, initially developed in mathematics to describe the properties of geometric space under deformations, are now finding application in materials, electronics, and optics. The main driver is topological protection, a property that provides stability to a system even in the presence of defects. Harari et al. outline a theoretical proposal that carries such ideas over to geometrically designed laser cavities. The lasing mode is confined to the topological edge state of the cavity structure. Bandres et al. implemented those ideas to fabricate a topological insulator laser with an array of ring resonators. The results demonstrate a powerful platform for developing new laser systems.

Science, this issue p. eaar4003, p. eaar4005

Structured Abstract

INTRODUCTION

Physical systems that exhibit topological invariants are naturally endowed with robustness against perturbations, as was recently demonstrated in many settings in condensed matter, photonics, cold atoms, acoustics, and more. The most prominent manifestations of topological systems are topological insulators, which exhibit scatter-free edge-state transport, immune to perturbations and disorder. Recent years have witnessed intense efforts toward exploiting these physical phenomena in the optical domain, with new ideas ranging from topology-driven unidirectional devices to topological protection of path entanglement. But perhaps more technologically relevant than all topological photonic settings studied thus far is, as proposed by the accompanying theoretical paper by Harari et al., an all-dielectric magnet-free topological insulator laser, with desirable properties stemming from the topological transport of light in the laser cavity.

RATIONALE

We demonstrate nonmagnetic topological insulator lasers. The topological properties of the laser system give rise to single-mode lasing, robustness against fabrication defects, and notably higher slope efficiencies compared to those of the topologically trivial counterparts. We further exploit the properties of the active topological platform by assembling topological insulator lasers from S-chiral microresonators that enforce predetermined unidirectional lasing even in the absence of magnetic fields.

RESULTS

Our topological insulator laser system is an aperiodic array of 10 unit cell–by–10 unit cell coupled ring resonators on an InGaAsP quantum wells platform. The active lattice uses the topological architecture suggested in the accompanying theoretical paper. This two-dimensional setting is composed of a square lattice of ring resonators coupled to each other by means of link rings. The intermediary links are judiciously spatially shifted to introduce a set of hopping phases, establishing a synthetic magnetic field and two topological band gaps. The gain in this laser system is provided by optical pumping. To promote lasing of the topologically protected edge modes, we pump the outer perimeter of the array while leaving the interior lossy. We find that this topological insulator laser operates in single mode even considerably above threshold, whereas the corresponding topologically trivial realizations lase in multiple modes. Moreover, the topological laser displays a slope efficiency that is considerably higher than that in the corresponding trivial realizations. We further demonstrate the topological features of this laser by observing that in the topological array, all sites emit coherently at the same wavelength, whereas in the trivial array, lasing occurs in localized regions, each at a different frequency. Also, by pumping only part of the topological array, we demonstrate that the topological edge mode always travels along the perimeter and emits light through the output coupler. By contrast, when we pump the trivial array far from the output coupler, no light is extracted from the coupler because the lasing occurs at stationary modes. We also observe that, even in the presence of defects, the topological protection always leads to more efficient lasing compared to that of the trivial counterpart. Finally, to show the potential of this active system, we assemble a topological system based on S-chiral resonators, which can provide new avenues to control the topological features.

CONCLUSION

We have experimentally demonstrated an all-dielectric topological insulator laser and found that the topological features enhance the lasing performance of a two-dimensional array of microresonators, making them lase in unison in an extended topologically protected scatter-free edge mode. The observed single longitudinal-mode operation leads to a considerably higher slope efficiency as compared to that of a corresponding topologically trivial system. Our results pave the way toward a new class of active topological photonic devices, such as laser arrays, that can operate in a coherent fashion with high efficiencies.

Topological insulator laser.

(A) Top-view image of the lasing pattern (topological edge mode) in a 10 unit cell–by–10 unit cell array of topologically coupled resonators and the output ports. (B) Output intensity versus pump intensity for a topological insulator laser and its trivial counterpart. The enhancement of the slope efficiency is about threefold. Comparing the power emitted in the single mode of the topological array to that of the highest power mode in the trivial array, the topological outperforms the trivial by more than a factor of 10. (C) Emission spectra from a topological insulator laser and its topologically trivial counterpart. au, arbitrary units.

Abstract

Physical systems exhibiting topological invariants are naturally endowed with robustness against perturbations, as manifested in topological insulators—materials exhibiting robust electron transport, immune from scattering by defects and disorder. Recent years have witnessed intense efforts toward exploiting these phenomena in photonics. Here we demonstrate a nonmagnetic topological insulator laser system exhibiting topologically protected transport in the cavity. Its topological properties give rise to single-mode lasing, robustness against defects, and considerably higher slope efficiencies compared to the topologically trivial counterparts. We further exploit the properties of active topological platforms by assembling the system from S-chiral microresonators, enforcing predetermined unidirectional lasing without magnetic fields. This work paves the way toward active topological devices with exciting properties and functionalities.

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