To most people, a laser means eyeball-scorching rays of light shooting out of a bulky box or a pointer pen. But a new type of laser can literally be painted onto any surface, including silicon chips. The development could help save the multibillion-dollar computer chip industry from a looming crisis: the point when microchips can’t get any faster. The chips that make up a computer keep getting speedier, but actual performance of the whole unit lags behind.
Now, a team at the University of Toronto in Canada has demonstrated the first laser to come close to meeting these conditions. The researchers suspended quantum dots–nanometer-sized particles of semiconductors–in a liquid and painted the suspension on the inside of a tiny glass tube. “It’s just a goop that you splash on,” says Ted Sargent, a nanotechnology researcher and the lead author of the study published 17 April in Optics Express. The substance can be applied to anything, including silicon, and the particles are the perfect size to emit infrared light, the wavelength needed in telecommunications.