Kerry J. Vahala

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The combined work of Yasuhiko Arakawa, Kam Y. Lau, and Kerry J. Vahala formed the basis for nearly all of today’s high-speed semiconductor laser design for lightwave high-speed telecommunications, particularly in the metropolitan and local-area arena. They not only established the physical principles required for high-information-rate transmission by directly modulating the lasers but also demonstrated the underlying physics and performance benefits of electronic quantum confinement to achieve the goal. Dr. Lau’s groundbreaking work in the early 1980s introduced the relationship between the relaxation oscillation frequency of the laser and differential optical gain—a material design property—and verified this relationship by operating a laser at low temperature, demonstrating that a higher differential gain would result in an increased modulation bandwidth. Dr. Arakawa and Dr. Vahala predicted in 1984 that quantum confinement could enhance differential gain and improve modulation speed per Lau’s findings. Subsequent work by these three proved that to be the first experimental verification that quantum-confined lasers have high relaxation oscillation frequencies. Their fundamental, theoretical and experimental breakthroughs have proven to have had a lasting impact on today’s Internet.

An IEEE Senior Member, Dr. Vahala is currently the Ted and Ginger Jenkins Professor of Information Science and Technology and professor of applied physics at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.