News Feature | April 20, 2022

Bright Ideas — HEL & Hypersonic Weapons Tests Successful, High-Quality Graphene-hBN Deposition Method Proves Scalable

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By Abby Proch, former editor


Scientists at the University of Michigan have secured a scalable method for producing high-quality hBN (hexagonal boron nitride) on graphene, potentially enabling the first-ever LEDs capable of generating deep-UV light. The graphene-hBN structures were made using molecular-beam epitaxy whereby atoms are individually sprayed onto a substrate. According to the report, deep-UV LEDs may eventually replace hot and inefficient mercury-xenon lamps and lead to smaller and more efficient lasers. The graphene-hBN structures may also have implications for quantum computing.

In defense news, a high-energy laser developed by Lockheed Martin successfully shot down a subsonic cruise missile training target in February, with announcement made last year. According to a Breaking Defense report, the Navy used the electricity-powered Layered Laser Defense weapon against the cruise missile target as well as quadcopter droves and other UAVs. And in its effort to prepare for what it sees as an impending threat from Iranian UAVs, Israel successfully tested its own laser weapon system to shut down drones, mortars, and missiles. The laser weapon system was developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Elbit Systems.

A second successful launch of a DARPA Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) strengthens U.S. military resolve for advancing its hypersonic weapons program. Crucial to this weapon’s performance is its ability to achieve “sustained propulsion” by intaking captured air and using its kinetic energy, rather than explosives, to neutralize a threat. In this particular flight, the HAWC reached sustained Mach 5, flew higher than 65,000 feet, and journeyed more than 300 nautical miles.

Coming off a year grossly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, 2021 saw a 44% increase of semiconductor manufacturing equipment global sales over 2020. The impressive rise reported by the Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI) trade group means sales climbed to nearly $103 billion for the year, with the largest boom coming from China’s 58% jump in sales growth. North America saw just a17% increase in sales growth, totaling about $7.6 billion. The demand for more equipment is attributed, in part, to the industry’s “aggressive push to add capacity.”

A combined €1.1 billion from public and private funds have been given to Dutch photonics IC specialists, PhotonDelta. In an effort to bolster the country’s commitment to developing integrated photonics, the funding will enable PhotonDelta, comprised of 26 individual companies, to “further invest in photonic startups and scaleups, expand production and research facilities, attract and train talent, drive adoption, and develop a world-class design library.” PhotonDelta is also working toward the production of more than 100,000 wafers per year by 2030.

Last week, the Colorado Photonics Industry Association held its first Colorado Photonics Expo and Gala, with speaker tracks in biosciences, aerospace and remote sensing, quantum technologies, advanced manufacturing, and AR/VR. The inaugural event featured a key note from SPIE CEO Kent Rochford and OPTICA Science Advisor and Consultant Carl Williams. The one-day event featured nearly 20 locally based exhibitors, including LongPath Technologies, Lumibird, Raytheon, Thorlabs, Toptica, and Zygo. Colorado is one of several photonics hubs throughout the U.S.

Japan’s first privately owned laser nuclear fusion startup, EX-Fusion, just raised 130 million JPY in the pursuit of realizing the first commercially available laser-based nuclear fusion reactor to generate power. The company combines its continuous target supply system (CTSS) and the laser target tracking system (LTTS) “to demonstrate the feasibility of high frequency repetition laser plasma experiments using high power pulse lasers and to demonstrate the ability to continuously generate neutrons in sequential laser fusion reactions.” EX-Fusion focuses on the “fast ignition method,” a leader of which and world record-holder is its own founder Kazuki Mastuo.

Also in laser news, Fraunhofer IWS has developed an improved laser cladding process to be on display at the upcoming LASER World of PHOTONICS trade show. The 10kW+ HICLAD laser was created to allow custom productive coating solutions. Applications for the new laser system include the laser-based hardfacing coating of automotive parts well as components for the oil, gas, and paper industries. HICLAD reportedly carries a deposition rate of up to 18g/kWh. The IWS will also present its COAZquattro laser nozzle, which allows lasers up to 20kW to combine both powder and wire in the cladding process.

Finally, Swiss researchers have successfully embedded chalcogenide glass into pockets made of silica glass — a development that could enable miniaturized IR optical designs for applications in small form-factor IR optics, such as those in handheld and portable gas sensing instruments and cell phones enabled with thermal imaging. Before that becomes a reality, the team says research will be expanded to include the study of other glass compositions and size scales.