EducationWhat is laser diode - Laser diode examples and applications

What is laser diode – Laser diode examples and applications

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A laser diode is a semiconductor device that produces coherent radiation in the visible or infrared spectrum when electric current passes through it. This type of diode is a key component in a variety of applications, from consumer electronics to telecommunications and industrial equipment.

Key Characteristics of Laser Diodes:

  1. Semiconductor Material: Laser diodes are made from semiconductor materials like gallium arsenide, indium gallium nitride, or others. These materials determine the wavelength (color) of the laser light.
  2. Stimulated Emission: They work on the principle of stimulated emission. When current flows through the diode, it excites the electrons in the semiconductor material. These excited electrons, when they return to a lower energy state, release photons – particles of light.
  3. Coherent Light: The light emitted by a laser diode is highly coherent, meaning the light waves are in phase both in time and space. This coherence allows the light to be focused into a tight beam with a very narrow spectral bandwidth.
  4. Efficiency and Compactness: Laser diodes are known for their efficiency and compact size. They convert electrical energy into light energy with minimal loss, and their small size makes them ideal for integration into various electronic devices.
  5. Wavelength Variability: The wavelength of the laser light can vary depending on the semiconductor material and construction of the diode. This makes laser diodes versatile for different applications, such as in CD/DVD players, laser printers, optical communications, and medical devices.


  • Data Storage: In CD and DVD players and writers, laser diodes are used for reading and writing data.
  • Communication: In fiber optic communications, they transmit data over long distances at high speeds.
  • Medical Applications: Used in various medical procedures, including laser surgery and skin treatments.
  • Industrial Use: Employed in cutting, welding, and precision machining.
  • Consumer Electronics: Integral in laser pointers, barcode scanners, and printers.


  • High Efficiency: Converts electricity to light energy with minimal waste.
  • Compact Size: Small and easily integrated into electronic devices.
  • Precision: Capable of emitting a narrow, focused beam of light.
  • Versatility: Suitable for a wide range of applications due to variable wavelengths.


  • Sensitivity to Overheating: They can be damaged by excessive heat or electrical overload.
  • Limited Lifespan: Typically, laser diodes have a finite operational life, which varies based on usage and construction.

Laser diode construction and principle of operation

The different colored LEDs typically used in electronic gadgets as well as toys are constructed in a way that is simpler that laser diodes. To understand how a laser diode functions we’ll use simple experiments with mirrors from the everyday. If the person viewing the mirror is wearing another sheet in front of his back, reflections will increase.

Multiple reflections are the initial phenomenon that is of curiosity. The second one, however can be described as mirrors. Phoenician (Venetian) mirror that on one hand is as transparent as windows, but on the other hand, it reflects everything as if it were a mirror. The same effect can be observed when the light is on in a dark room and we only see our reflection in the window and those who are who are outside can view all aspects of an interior.

For a diode laser every side in the are covered by layers that reflect light. One entirely like a mirror and the mirror on the other (called semi-permeable mirror) partially. The arrangement of these mirrors is an optical resonator, which’s job is to reflect light.

laser diode structure

The core part of a laser diode is the active region, usually made of a special material like gallium arsenide (GaAs), mixed with elements like aluminum or indium. When electricity flows through this region, it triggers the movement of electrons and holes in the material, leading to the creation of light particles or photons.

The active region is sandwiched between layers of different semiconductor materials, known as p-type and n-type. These layers form a p-n junction that controls the flow of current in a single direction. The p-type layer has more holes, while the n-type layer has more electrons.

Next to the p-n junction are cladding layers. These are made of a material with a lower light-bending index than the active region. They help keep the light inside the active region and reduce light scattering.

The laser diode is often combined with lenses or other optics to shape and direct the light beam. The design of each layer in the laser diode is crucial for producing a clear, focused light.

Understanding this structure helps us grasp how laser diodes work. When connected to a power source, like a battery, the laser diode starts to emit light. This light is contained within the resonator, formed by mirror-like layers, different from a normal LED where light escapes. The beam’s strength must be right to pass through the semi-permeable layers.

When the diode is powered, it creates photons. Some of these photons bounce within the mirrored structure, passing through the thin area near the semiconductor junction. They might interact with energized atoms—atoms that have absorbed energy and are ready to release it. This energy comes from the power source.

laser diode photons

Why do we need the most collisions feasible? Because the atom is then returned to its initial state (loses the energy it has accumulated) and produces an identical photon as the one which struck it. This means that we have two photons that behave in the same manner. This process is known as forced emission in the field of physics.

If the twinned photons continue to travel across the semiconductor region, the number of “copies” will increase dramatically. A large amount of identical photons will be created, and they bounce around between mirrors. When they have reached a sufficient luminosity, the beam will be released from the laser by its semipermeable layer. The result is coherent light!

Excited particles that have lost their excess energy are able to be reconnected to the process. The process of supplying atoms with this excess energy is known as laser pumping. It has to occur all through the operation of the laser to ensure that the laser will continue producing new photons.

The photons need to continuously circulate within the structure, leading to forced emission. Also, they create patterns for excited molecules to copy. Mirrors that are semi-permeable provide this, reflecting some the photons.

However, what guarantee do we get that the laser action which is”copying,” or “copying” of photons using excited atoms occurs exactly between the mirrors and not in a different plane? This has to be handled by the manufacturer of the laser. The majority of the areas that are not used are covered with matte layers, which is a poor reflector of light and sometimes absorbs the light.

A normal LED doesn’t come with an optical resonator built-in and also does not have an appropriate shape. This is why its light source is accomplished through spontaneous emission. Photons are created randomly, in various directions. Therefore, regarding the coherence of light, there is no debate.

The phenomenon of avalanche-forced in the emission of radiation is known as laser action. The lowest value of the current flowing through the diode that is used to create laser action takes place is known as”the threshold” current.

As we mentioned previously, only a small fraction of photons will participate in the laser’s actions. That’s the case – those whose parameters don’t match ours will be absorbed by the structure of the semiconductor. They will turn into heat that must be eliminated. They’re housings for laser diodes typically are made of steel, which makes them much easier to cool.

Laser diode in an element of circuit

From an electrical perspective From an electrical perspective, a laser diode a semiconductor diode having the typical I(V) properties. The threshold current is the point at that the diode creates an unison signal. Inductance and capacitance LP are what is the current lead of the diode. Even though they are tiny they are significant in the event that the modulation frequency is greater than 10 GHz. The junction itself is represented as capacitance CJ, with standard values of just a few picofarads and resistance RJ with values of just a few ohms. Their values fluctuate with laser’s current. This circuit can be completed by series inductance and resistance RS. The measurements of the impedance of laser diodes of different kinds exhibit significant differences. Diode structures come in a range of sizes and power conditions that make it difficult for the designers in diode-specific current modulation circuits.

laser diode circuit

When we consider how a diode interacts with a current control circuit at high frequencies, especially above 30 GHz, things get complicated. If you place a laser diode in a coaxial line with a typical impedance of 50 ohms, it doesn’t match well. Changing the diode’s current significantly affects the reflection conditions. To stabilize the operation and make the diode work effectively across a wide frequency range, adding a 45-50 ohm resistor in parallel with the diode can help.

The current in the laser diode is managed using specially designed transistor circuits. These control transistors act as sources of a wide range of currents. An important factor in how a laser works, especially in an optical line, is its spectral properties, meaning the characteristics of its frequency range. For lasers with Fabry-Perot resonance, the spectrum shows various stripes corresponding to different resonance frequencies. On the frequency scale, these stripes can be hundreds of GHz wide.

Such lasers are used in optical communications, but, as we’ll see in later chapters, dispersion effects limit their use over long distances. Lasers like DBR (Distributed Bragg Reflector) and DFB (Distributed Feedback) have been found to have better spectral characteristics compared to Fabry-Perot lasers. As the intensity of the beam increases, its spectrum becomes clearer. Also, enlarging the active region of the laser improves its spectral properties. The well-designed DFB lasers with quantum well structures have the clearest spectrum, with beam widths typically around 0.25 MHz.

ristics than F-P lasers. As the intensity that the beam produces, its spectrum is cleaned up. Furthermore increasing the size of the active region greatly improves the spectral properties. The extensively designed DFB series of quantum well lasers have the most clear spectrum and the size of beams in most efficient designs is on the range in the range of 0.25 MHz.

High power laser diode

A high power laser diode is a type of semiconductor laser that is capable of emitting high intensity, concentrated light. These diodes have become increasingly important in a variety of applications such as material processing, medical treatments, and defense systems.


High-power laser diodes stand out for their strong output. Depending on their design, they can produce several watts to even hundreds of watts. Efficiency is another key feature. It measures how much input power is needed to produce a certain level of output. These laser diodes are usually very efficient, meaning they use energy well and don’t require complex cooling systems.

These diodes have many uses. In material processing, for example, their powerful and precise beams are perfect for cutting, drilling, and welding various materials. They’re also used in medical treatments like laser surgery. Here, they can accurately target and treat tissue without harming nearby areas.

Other uses include defense, where they’re part of laser weapons and missile defense systems. They also play a role in scientific research, aiding in activities like spectroscopy and particle acceleration.

Laser diode driver

A laser diode driver is a special electronic circuit designed to manage the power supply to a laser diode. Its main job is to make sure the diode works within its safe limits. The driver includes a voltage source to power the diode, a current regulation circuit to control the flow of electricity, and safety features to prevent damage. These safety features protect against too much current or voltage.

Laser diode drivers are crucial for laser devices. They are used in many things, like laser pointers, fiber optic systems in telecommunications, and medical equipment.

Basics of Laser Diode Drivers

Laser diodes are sensitive to changes in temperature and voltage, and can be easily damaged if not operated within their safe operating parameters. A laser diode driver provides a constant current to the diode, ensuring that the diode operates within its safe operating range and preventing it from being damaged due to overcurrent or overvoltage.

Types of Laser Diode Drivers

There are two main types of laser diode drivers: linear and switching. Linear drivers regulate the current to the diode by using a voltage regulator and a current-limiting resistor. These drivers are relatively simple and inexpensive but are limited in their maximum output current and efficiency. Switching drivers, on the other hand, use a switching regulator to provide high efficiency and higher maximum output current. However, they are more complex and expensive than linear drivers.

Importance of Laser Diode Drivers

Laser diode drivers are crucial parts of laser systems. They keep the laser working safely, protecting it from too much current or voltage which could harm the diode. Without a driver, the diode could overheat and break. Also, the power of the laser depends directly on the current it gets. This means controlling the current accurately is essential for a laser that works precisely and reliably.

Fiber coupled laser diode

Many diode lasers are offered in fiber-coupled forms with strong fiber-coupling optics (e.g. the permanent optically-welded attachment for fibers) integrated into the package of lasers. The type of fibers and methods used vary greatly for different diode lasers.

The most straightforward example is of an VCSEL (vertical cavity-surface emitting laser) that typically emits beams with excellent beam quality, moderate divergence, zero astigmatism and an elliptical intensity profile. A simple spherical-shaped lens is enough to image the emitting spot towards the inside of a single mode fiber. The efficiency of coupling can be as high as 70-80 percent. Also, it is possible to join straight (butt connect) your fiber with surface that emits the VCSEL.

Small laser diodes emit edge-emitting light sources also emit in one spatial mode, providing efficient coupling to a single mode fiber. However, the efficiency of coupling will be affected due to the ellipticity beam, when a basic lens with a spherical shape is employed. The beam’s divergence can be quite high in at minimum one direction, which requires an lens with a relatively large numerical aperture. Another issue is astigmatism of the diode’s output, especially when using gain-guided diodes. This could be rectified by another weak cylindrical lens. With output capacities of as high as 100 milliwatts, fiber-coupled gain-guided LDs that are gain-guided can be used, e.g., pumping fiber amplifiers that are erbium-doped.

Broad area laser diodes spatially multimode in the length directions of emitter. If circular beams are formed by the help of a cylindrical lens, then transferred into a multimode fibre it will result in a significant amount of brightness (radiance) is diminished because the superior brightness of the beam in speed direction is not used. A capacity of e.g. 1 W could be put into a fiber that has a 50-mm core diameter and an aperture (NA) that is 0.12. This is enough e.g. to pump a mass laser e.g. a microchip laser. Even a power launch of 10W is achievable.

A new method for broad-area lasers is made by reshaping beams to create a symmetrized beam (and not just a an symmetrized beam radius) prior to the launch. This allows for higher luminosity.

In the case of diode bars (diode arrays) The issue of beam quality that is asymmetrical is more serious. In this case, the outputs of individual emitters could be joined into distinct fibers of an array of fibers. The fibers are laid out in a linear pattern on the opposite side of the diode bar but in a circular pattern at the output side. Alternately, a beam shaper to optimize the beam’s quality could be utilized prior to the launch of one multimode fiber. This could be accomplished e.g. by using a two-mirror beam shaping device or by using some micro-optic components. This is possible e.g. to join 30 W into an optical fiber that has a 200-mm (or even 100 millimeters) center diameter, and an NA value of 0.22. This device could be used, e.g., pumping an Nd:YAG laser or Nd:YVO4 with around 15 W power output.

To make diode stacks the fibers that have even larger diameters for the core are utilized. There is the possibility e.g. to join several hundred watts (or perhaps several kilowatts) or optical power to a fiber that has a 600-mm diameter core with NA equal to 0.22.

Arduino laser diode

If you want to control a laser diode using an Arduino, you’ll need a few things: a laser diode, a driver circuit, and an Arduino board. The driver circuit is important because it regulates the current and voltage for the laser diode. Make sure this circuit matches your diode’s specifications.

Once you have all your parts, you can use the Arduino to program the driver circuit and manage the laser diode. Arduino-controlled laser diodes are great for various projects like laser engraving, making laser pointers, and creating laser communication systems.

For instance, you can make a laser engraving machine with an Arduino and a laser diode. By using stepper motors to move the laser, you can etch detailed designs on different materials, including wood and metal.

Another cool idea is to build an Arduino-controlled laser pointer. You can add a joystick or another controller to move the laser beam, which is perfect for presentations or interactive uses.

Arduino-based laser communication systems are also on the rise, especially in remote sensing and space technology. By encoding data into the laser beam, you can send information accurately over long distances.

The Evolution of Laser Diode Technology: Past, Present, and Future

A Journey Through Time: The Origins of Laser Diodes

The story of laser diodes begins in the mid-20th century, rooted in the foundational work of scientists like Einstein and Schawlow. The first functioning laser, created in 1960 by Theodore Maiman, paved the way for the development of laser diodes. Initially, these devices were rudimentary and limited in application due to their size, efficiency, and cost.

Breakthroughs and Innovations: The Laser Diode’s Rise

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed significant advancements in semiconductor technology, which directly influenced laser diode development. The introduction of materials like gallium arsenide allowed for more efficient and compact diodes. This period marked the transition of laser diodes from laboratory curiosities to practical components in consumer products and industrial tools.

The Present: Laser Diodes in the Digital Age

Today, laser diodes are ubiquitous in modern life. They are the driving force behind data storage devices like CD and DVD players, integral in fiber optic communication, and essential in various medical procedures. Current laser diodes are prized for their efficiency, compactness, and versatility, with ongoing research pushing the boundaries of their power output and wavelength range.

The Future: Towards Brighter and More Versatile Laser Diodes

The future of laser diode technology is as promising as it is exciting. Researchers are exploring new materials and designs to create diodes that operate in broader wavelength ranges, including the ultraviolet and far-infrared regions. There is also a significant push towards making laser diodes more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly, reducing their carbon footprint.

Integrating with Emerging Technologies

Emerging fields like quantum computing and nanotechnology offer new realms for laser diodes. Their potential integration with these technologies could lead to groundbreaking advancements in computing power and material science.

Laser diode technology has come a long way since its inception. From bulky, inefficient devices to sleek, powerful components that fit in the palm of your hand, laser diodes continue to be at the forefront of scientific and technological progress. As we look towards the future, their evolution promises to be as dynamic and impactful as their past.

Laser Diodes vs. LED: Differences and Applications

Understanding the Fundamentals: Laser Diodes and LEDs

While both laser diodes and Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are semiconductor devices that emit light, their operation, construction, and applications differ significantly. Laser diodes produce coherent and monochromatic light through stimulated emission, resulting in a focused, narrow beam. In contrast, LEDs emit incoherent light through spontaneous emission, creating a wider, diffused light output.

The Mechanism Behind the Light

Laser diodes generate light in a process where electrons and holes combine at a junction, releasing energy in the form of photons. This process is controlled and amplified to produce a coherent light beam. LEDs, on the other hand, emit light as electrons pass through a semiconductor material, releasing energy in a broader spectrum.

Applications: Where Precision Meets Versatility

Laser diodes are the go-to choice in applications requiring high precision and control, such as fiber-optic communications, barcode scanners, and medical instruments. Their ability to focus on a small area with high intensity makes them ideal for cutting and engraving. LEDs find their use in general lighting, displays, and indicators, where broad light coverage and lower power consumption are desired.

Power and Efficiency: A Comparative Look

In terms of efficiency, laser diodes typically have a higher power output compared to LEDs. They can emit more light from a smaller area but usually require more precise current and temperature control. LEDs are known for their long lifespan and durability, making them more suitable for general lighting purposes.

Safety and Handling: A Key Consideration

Handling and safety protocols differ substantially between laser diodes and LEDs. Laser diodes, especially high-power ones, require careful handling due to the risk of eye damage. LEDs are generally safer and do not pose the same risks, making them more user-friendly for non-specialized applications.

The Future Developments: Trends and Innovations

The future holds exciting developments for both technologies. Laser diodes are being developed to cover a wider range of wavelengths and become more energy-efficient. LEDs are seeing advancements in color range and luminosity, with organic LEDs (OLEDs) leading the way in display technology.

Laser diodes and LEDs, while distinct in their characteristics and applications, are complementary technologies. Each plays a crucial role in modern electronic and photonic devices, driving innovation and efficiency in various fields. As technology advances, the line between these two might blur, leading to novel applications and devices.

Recent researches about laser diode

High-Power Laser Diodes in the 9xx-nm Range

A study evaluated design concepts for feedback-resistant high-power laser diodes in the 9xx-nm range, addressing issues like degradation in high-power broad-area lasers with quantum well and quantum dot active regions.

The 2023 study “Evaluation of design concepts for feedback-resistant 9xx-nm high-power laser diodes” presents a comprehensive analysis of four different design approaches for external-cavity laser diodes (ECDLs) to enhance their output power and resistance to catastrophic optical damage (COD). A multiphysics model incorporating electrical, optical, and thermal properties of the device was employed to evaluate the COD level.

Key findings and approaches from the study include:

  1. Feedback-Induced Failure: The study identifies feedback-induced failure, caused by shifting the fast axis collimation (FAC) lens. This shift results in feedback radiation being absorbed within the highly p-doped and contact metal layers of the diode.
  2. Three Local Modifications: The first three design concepts involve modifications at the front facet of the laser diode chip. These modifications aim to suppress injected current, optical absorption, and leakage current from the quantum well. The approaches increased the COD level by 8%, 27%, and 27% respectively. However, they come with certain drawbacks like slightly reduced efficiency or beam quality along the fast axis.
  3. Combining Approaches for Increased Output: By integrating all three approaches, the output power of the laser diodes can be increased by 37%.
  4. Fourth Approach – Bi-Telecentric Resonator: The fourth concept introduces an additional lens within the external resonator, making it bi-telecentric. This setup allows for a feedback field without image reversal and completely removes the setup’s sensitivity to vertical misalignment of the FAC lens. The downside of this method is a significant increase in the resonator size, approximately by a factor of 20.

This research highlights the continuous efforts in the field of laser diode technology to improve performance and reliability, especially for high-power applications. Such advancements are crucial for broadening the scope of laser diodes in various industrial and scientific applications.

High-Powered Laser Diode System at EPAC

The recent research in 2023 led by Leonardo Electronics US Inc., a subsidiary of Leonardo, has marked a significant advancement in the field of high-powered laser diode technology. This development, carried out under the direction of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), focuses on a high-powered laser diode system intended for use in a high-energy laser amplifier system at the Extreme Photonics and Applications Centre (EPAC), which is a part of STFC’s Central Laser Facility (CLF).

Key Aspects of the Research

  1. Focus on Extreme Photonics: The newly developed technology is aimed at ‘extreme photonics’ research, a field that encompasses advanced applications of photonics and laser technology. This cutting-edge technology is set to accelerate the pace of scientific research, with potentially transformative implications across various fields​
  2. High-Power and High-Peak-Power Diode Lasers: Leonardo Electronics US is recognized for its expertise in high-peak-power diode lasers. The company has achieved a milestone by providing diode lasers that can reach very high peak powers, over one million watts, in a remarkably compact form. This compactness is crucial for practical applications and experimental flexibility​.

Potential Applications and Impact:

  • Medical Field: The technology can lead to revolutionary advancements in medical imaging and cancer therapy. The capability to generate ‘very brilliant’ x-rays, which offer deeper penetration than standard x-rays, can significantly enhance imaging capabilities in medical diagnostics and treatment.
  • Green Energy Production: Another promising application lies in the production of green energy through fusion reactions, specifically inertial confinement fusion (ICF). This advancement builds upon recent successes in controlled fusion reactions, moving closer to the goal of generating abundant carbon-free energy​
  • Innovative ‘Homogenized Pump System’: The system, known as the ‘Homogenized Pump System’, consists of two optical modules, each with a peak power of 29 kW. These modules can operate with pulse frequencies ranging from 1 Hz to 10 Hz, generating up to 35 J per pulse. The system’s high homogeneity ensures a uniform beam, avoiding the creation of ‘hot spots’ that could damage equipment​
  • Reduced Waste Heat and Increased Efficiency: The use of diode lasers in energizing high-power lasers represents a more efficient approach to generating laser energy. This method produces less waste heat and allows for a quicker succession of laser pulses, maximizing the usability of secondary beams and increasing the number of particles per unit time​
  • Compact Design for Enhanced Experimental Flexibility: The compact nature of the modules and diodes in this system has led to a design that occupies only a third of the initially allocated volume. This smaller footprint provides more space and accessibility for various experimental setups​

This research signifies a major leap forward in laser diode technology, opening up new horizons in scientific exploration and practical applications. The breakthroughs achieved in this project are expected to have far-reaching effects in the fields of medical treatment, green energy production, and advanced imaging capabilities.

Michal Pukala
Electronics and Telecommunications engineer with Electro-energetics Master degree graduation. Lightning designer experienced engineer. Currently working in IT industry.