Quantum-LED Emits Single Photons

An overlay of the microscope image of a quantum LED device and the photoluminescence image from the active area of WSe2. The isolated bright spot corresponds to a quantum emitter generating a stream of single photons. (Source: M. Atatüre)

An overlay of the microscope image of a quantum LED device and the photoluminescence image from the active area of WSe2. The isolated bright spot corresponds to a quantum emitter generating a stream of single photons. (Source: M. Atatüre)

Researchers from the Graphene Flagship use layered materials to create an all-electrical quantum light emitting diodes with single-photon emission. These LEDs have potential as on-chip photon sources in quantum infor­mation appli­cations. Constructed of layers of atomically thin materials, including transition metal dichal­cogenides (TMDs), graphene, and boron nitride, the ultra-thin LEDs showing all-electrical single photon generation could be excellent on-chip quantum light sources for a wide range of photonics applications for quantum communi­cations and networks.

The ultra-thin devices are constructed of thin layers of different layered materials, stacked together to form a hetero­structure. Electrical current is injected into the device, tunnelling from single-layer graphene, through few-layer boron nitride acting as a tunnel barrier, and into the mono- or bi-layer TMD material, such as tungsten dise­lenide, where electrons recombine with holes to emit single photons. At high currents, this recom­bination occurs across the whole surface of the device, while at low currents, the quantum behaviour is apparent and the recom­bination is concentrated in highly localised quantum emitters.

All-electrical single photon emission is a key priority for integrated quantum opto­electronics. Typically, single photon generation relies on optical excitation and requires large-scale optical set-ups with lasers and precise alignment of optical components. This research brings on-chip single photon emission for quantum communi­cation a step closer. Mete Atatüre from the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge explains: “Ultimately, in a scalable circuit, we need fully integrated devices that we can control by electrical impulses, instead of a laser that focuses on different segments of an integrated circuit. For quantum communi­cation with single photons, and quantum networks between different nodes – for example, to couple qubits – we want to be able to just drive current, and get light out. There are many emitters that are opti­cally excitable, but only a handful are electri­cally driven”. In their devices, a modest current of less than 1 µA ensures that the single-photon behaviour dominates the emission charac­teristics.

The layered structure of TMDs makes them ideal for use in ultra-thin hetero­structures for use on chips, and also adds the benefit of atomically precise layer interfacing. The quantum emitters are highly localised in the TMD layer and have spectrally sharp emission spectra. The layered nature also offers an advantage over some other single-photon emitters for feasible and effective inte­gration into nano­photonic circuits. Frank Koppens adds: “Electrically driven single photon sources are essential for many appli­cations, and this first rea­lisation with layered materials is a real milestone. This ultra-thin and flexible platform offers high levels of tuna­bility, design freedom, and integration capabilities with nano-electronic platforms including silicon CMOS.”

This research is a fantastic example of the possibilities that can be opened up with new discoveries about materials. Quantum dots were discovered to exist in layered TMDs only very recently, with research published simul­taneously in early 2015 by several different research groups including groups currently working within the Graphene Flagship. Marek Potemski and co-workers working at CNRS in collaboration with researchers at the University of Warsaw discovered stable quantum emitters at the edges of WSe2 monolayers, displaying highly localised photo­luminescence with single-photon emission charac­teristics. Kis and colleagues working at ETH Zurich and EPFL also observed single photon emitters with narrow linewidths in tungsten diselenide. At the same time, van der Zant and colleagues from Delft University of Technology , working with researchers at the University of Münster observed that the localised emitters in WSe2 are due to trapped excitons, and suggested that they originate from structural defects. These quantum emitters have the potential to supplant research into the more traditional quantum dot counter­parts because of their numerous benefits of the ultrathin devices of the layered structures.

With this research, quantum emitters are now seen in another TMD material, namely tungsten disulphide (WS2). Atatüre says: “We chose WS2 because it has higher bandgap, and we wanted to see if different materials offered different parts of the spectra for single photon emission. With this, we have shown that the quantum emission is not a unique feature of WSe2, which suggests that many other layered materials might be able to host quantum dot-like features as well.”

Andrea Ferrari, Chair of the Graphene Flagship Manage­ment Panel, and the Flagship’s Science and Techno­logy Officer, adds: “We are just scratching the surface of the many possible appli­cations of devices prepared by combining graphene with other insulating, semiconducting, super­conducting or metallic layered materials. In this case, not only have we demonstrated control­lable photon sources, but we have also shown that the field of quantum techno­logies can greatly benefit from layered materials. We hope this will bring synergies between the Graphene Flagship and its researchers, and the recently announced Quantum Techno­logies Flagship, due to start in the next few years. Many more exciting results and appli­cations will surely follow”. (Source: Graphene Flagship)

Reference: C. Palacios-Berraquero et al.: Atomically thin quantum light-emitting diodes, Nat. Comm. 7, 12978 (2016); DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12978

Links: EU-Graphene Flagship • Cambridge Graphene Centre, University of Cambridge, UK


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