Injection-laser inventors attend peace symposium

Mar 1st, 2002
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Hassaun A. Jones-Bey and Carrie DiRienzo

Last month, the developers of injection-laser technology gathered in San Diego, CA, along with their fellow 2001 Kyoto Prize Laureates for a symposium at the recently opened Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego.

Morton Panish, Izuo Hayashi, and Zhores Ivanovich Alferov received the 2001 Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology in the field of electronics for their innovative research and development of continuous-wave semiconductor lasers that operate at room temperature, also known as injection lasers.

While on staff at Bell Labs (Murray Hill, NJ) in 1970, Panish and Hayashi developed a doubled heterostructure, in which a single-crystal semiconductor of gallium arsenide was sandwiched between two layers of aluminum gallium arsenide. Threshold-current density was substantially reduced by the double effects of confining the electronics and holes in the active layer and of using the active region with its higher index of refraction as an optical waveguide.

As a researcher at the Ioffe Institute of Physics and Technology (St. Petersburg, Russia) where he is now the director, Alferov also made contributions to the area of III-V semiconductor heterostructures through investigations of injection properties and development of solar cells, light-emitting diodes, and epitaxy processes, culminating in a 2000 Nobel Prize for Physics.

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The injection laser's high luminous efficiency, compact size, light weight, and low cost laid ground for new technologies in the optoelectronics field. And continuous-mode operation along with broad bandwidth from infrared through visible spectra has enabled a broad range of applications and evolution of lasers for commercial use in optical-fiber communications; home electronics, including DVD players and CD players; and information-processing equipment such as laser printers. In recent years the lasers have been applied in processing tools for cutting and welding, and in medical devices such as laser knives.

"Way back in 1970, we knew the injection laser was a significant development for the phone company, but we had no idea how tremendous it would become," said Panish upon receiving the prize in Kyoto last November. "It's a tremendous satisfaction to have your work recognized as work that has contributed to society and the world."

Other 2001 Kyoto Prize Laureates attending the symposium in San Diego last month included Basic Sciences Laureate John Maynard Smith, a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Sussex (England), and Arts and Philosophy Laureate Györgi Ligeti, currently a professor of music at the Hamburg University (Germany).

Smith was awarded the prize for helping to establish a unified school of thought in evolutionary biology largely through applying game theory to the behavior of organisms. The resulting evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) has also played a significant role in economic and political disciplines. Ligeti developed a tone cluster method of musical composition—based on his experience with electronic music—that broke away from mainstream avant-garde music after World War II with a colorfully unique richness and fullness of sound. Parts of an early composition based on Ligeti's "micropolyphony" technique were featured in the film "2001: A Space Odyssey."

While last month's event marked the first gathering of all of the 2001 Kyoto Laureates outside of Japan, Panish, Hayashi and Alferov enjoyed the opportunity to renew warm and long-standing friendships originally forged in the late 1960s Cold War era when the U.S. and Soviet research teams became aware of each other's efforts toward the same goal. Cooperation among scientists is older than many other forms of international cooperation, beginning with Latin in ancient times and continuing with e-mail today, Alferov said. "During the Cold War time, the relations between Soviet physicists and American physicists were very good. Science is international by definition."

The three-day symposium (Feb. 6 to 8) in San Diego consisted of addresses and panel discussions concerning the relevance of the laureates' work to the improvement of society and the pursuit of peace. Panish, Hayashi and Alferov pointed out that technology in general can be used for either peaceful or warlike purposes, and expressed gratitude that their particular efforts have resulted primarily in improvements in communications and information transfer. "It's a very complex question," Panish said of technology's role in both war and peace. "I'm pleased to be talking to people about it. But I don't think it pays to try and make it simple when it's not."

The Kyoto Prizes have been presented annually since 1985 by the nonprofit Inamori Foundation to recognize significant contributions to the scientific, cultural, and spiritual development of mankind. Each laureate is awarded a diploma, a 20-karat-gold Kyoto Prize medal, and a share of a cash gift of Yen50 million (approximately US$136,000 each) at the November presentation ceremony in Kyoto, Japan.

"Today we are rushing ahead with incredible scientific and technological achievements, while understanding of our emotional and psychological development lags deplorably," said Kazuo Inamori founder of the Inamori Foundation and chairman emeritus of Kyocera Corp. "It is my hope that the Kyoto Prizes will encourage balanced development of both our scientific and our spiritual sides, and hence provide new impetus toward the structuring of new philosophical paradigms."

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