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    Photonics, Photons, and Quantum Mechanics



    The theme this month is Photonics  and it comes from an idea from neuromodulatorYour project can be anything involving or exploring lasers, LEDs, phototransistors, LiDARs, TOF cameras, and more!  Photonics is the science of light. It is derived from the Greek word "phos" which means light.  It emerged as a field in 1960 with the invention of the laser and although the term was coined earlier, it came into common use in the 1980s with the adoption of fiber-optic cable by telecommunications companies, making the digital age we live in possible.  Amongst the things that photonics has made possible are high-speed internet, laser tattoo removal, LASIK eye surgery, and infrared goggles. Your project can involve anything that uses optoelectronic components to source, detect, and control light. This includes any applications that study how photoelectric or photovoltaic effect is used photodiodes (such as solar cells), phototransistors, photomultipliers optoisolators, and integrated optical circuit (IOC) elements; photoconductivity used in photoresistors, photoconductive camera tubes, and charge-coupled imaging devices; stimulated emission used in injection laser diodes and quantum cascade lasers; lossev effect or radiative recombination used in: light-emitting diodes (LED) and OLEDs; photoemissivity used in a photoemissive camera tube; and applications related to optocoupler and optical fiber communications.


    Photonics is shaping some of the most exciting developments in the world.  In automotive, object/obstacle detection, collision avoidance, identification/classification and tracking, blind spot detection, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, and parking assistance well placed cameras and a well placed cameras and a light based version of radar known as LiDAR.  Light detection and ranging along with artificial intelligence are key to autonomous vehicles as they tell your car where its safe to drive and if there are any roadblocks. A network of light detection and ranging (LiDAR), time-of-flight, and visual instrumentation is being incorporated for both advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and fully autonomous vehicles.  In addition to their use in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicles,  Time-of-flight cameras, or ToF cameras,  are becoming increasing common on mobile phones, drones and industrial robots. These cameras map out surroundings to create a basic three-dimensional representation of what is in front of them. When used on a drone or a car to help it can be used for object/obstacle detection, for instance. ToF can also be used can also be used for identifying a subject, or for gesture recognition which is a feature that is also finding its way in ADAS. ToF can also be used for security applications to help – identify a user or to perhaps tell the difference between a human intruder or a neighbor's pet. ToF cameras can be used in VR and augmented reality applications to overlay a virtual world on the real world.


    In agriculture, a technique known as precision agriculture a drone carrying a sensor provides detailed information on crops that was never possible before. The sensor sends out infrared and ultraviolet rays to measure the chemical makeup soil, crops, and everything below the surface. This allows farmers to know exactly whether a crop is receiving too much water or fertilizer, and can apply both only as needed. This same sensor can also be used on a conveyer belt to examine harvested vegetables for deep bruising or to measure the sugar or water content in a vine of grapes. In medicine, a common surgical procedure known as an endoscopy uses light and ultra-tiny optical fibers to perform less invasive-surgery. An endoscopy, allows a surgeon to makes a smaller incision, as opposed to open surgery, allowing patients to recuperate faster.  During the procedure an optical fiber with a small camera attached snakes through your body and the surgeon can view the fibers  movement on a high definition monitor next to the patient.  This procedure can be used for knee surgeries, removing gall bladders or tumors, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as ulcerative colitis (UC)  Chron's disease, to remove sample tissue for an endoscopic biopsy, determine the cause of abnormal symptoms and colonoscopies among other procedures.      


    Lasers continue to change our lives and will continue to do so in ways that are unimaginable now.  For example, a recent breakthrough could allow data to be transferred 1,000 times faster than current internet wires using terahertz quantum cascade lasers.  Lasers in the terahertz range of the electromagnetic spectrum, is largely used to analyze chemicals. But by using them to send data, you could use these lasers anywhere a very fast network connection is required such as in a research facility, hospital, or for satellite communication.



    Photons and Quantum Mechanics


    In the 1860s, James Clerk Maxwell unified the fields of electricity, optics, and magnetism to form the basis of our modern understanding of electromagnetism.  In 1887 Heinrich Hertz demonstrated the existence of such waves by producing what is now known as radio waves in his laboratory. Hertz's experiment used two rods to serve as the receiver and a spark gap as the antenna.  A spark would jump when the wave was picked up.  His oscillator demonstrated that the velocity of radio waves was equal to the velocity of light, proving radio waves were just another form of light, and how to detach electric and magnetic waves from wire.  His verification that these waves travel at the same speed as visible light, and measurements of their reflection, refraction, diffraction, and polarization properties were a convincing demonstration of the existence of Maxwell’s waves. However, Maxwell's wave theory does not account for all properties of light. The shift from quantum mechanics began with something as mundane as why a metal object gets red when it is heated.  This is known as blackbody radiation which refers to the spectrum of light that is emitted by any heated object such as what happens when an electric stove burner turns red or the filament of a lightbulb.  In 1900, Max Planck had spent six years attempting to understand the fundamental basis for this and it looked like his efforts had been in vain because experimental data revealed an error in his theory. To account for the anomalies he observed he introduced the concept of the energy quanta, the idea that at an atomic level matter absorbs and emits energy only in discrete chunks, not to the continuous degree predicted by classical physics.


    Even Planck was hesitant to embrace this aspect of his theory but it did not take long for Einstein to take this concept and run with it. In 1905, Einstein published "Concerning an Heuristic Point of View where he proposed that light traveled not as a wave but as some manner of energy quanta.   This new way of understanding light, as packets of energy that would be later referred to as photons offered insights into the behavior of nine different phenomena, including the specific colors that Planck described being emitted from a light-bulb filament. It also explained how certain colors of light could eject electrons off metal surfaces, a phenomenon known as the "photoelectric effect."   In 1909,  while considering light’s momentum, he discovered that light behaves as both a particle and a wave, exhibiting the wave-particle duality that would only work under quantum mechanic theory.   In 1917, he introduced the concept of stimulated emission; where a photon interacts with an excited molecule or atom and causes the emission of a second photon having the same frequency, phase, polarization and direction. This became the theoretical basis for the laser, an acronym that stands for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation".

    Phototransistors, MASER to LASER, and LEDs



    The first transistor was successfully demonstrated at Bell Labs on December 23rd, 1947.  Credit for the invention goes to William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain.  John N. Shive was an American physicist and inventor who also made some remarkable contributions during the early days of the development of the transistors at the Bell Labs. On February 13th, 1948 Shrive discovered that a transistor that consisting of bronze contacts on the surface of an n-type substrate without a p-layer gave “gains up to 40x power!” He tried to leverage this to construct a point contact transistor with bronze contact on the front and back of a thin wedge of germanium.  Buckley, who had the secret idea that it was possible to build a junction transistor, would admit that he had kept some of his work on transistors a secret.  That is, until Shrive's 1948 advancements forced his hand.


    1948 was also the year that Shrive invented the world's first phototransistor, using a beam of light instead of a wire as the emitter of a point contact transistor.  His invention would not be announced by Bell Labs until 1950.  An electric eye is a photodetector that uses a sensor to measure the intensity of light and used to detect obstruction of a light beam. It is often used to start and stop electrical equipment such as with a garage door safety mechanism.  However, up until the invention of the phototransistor, it had been used heavily in electronics due to their ability to control electric currents by the action of light, making them useful in sound motion pictures, television, wire photos, and a lot more in the industry. In fact, Albert Einstein and Dr. Gustav Bucky received a 1936 patent on a design which applied the electric eye to a camera. The camera would be capable of automatically determining the proper aperture and exposure.


    What made the phototransistor a game changer was that it delivered very high power for a photoelectric device; in some cases, the massive power it generated was sufficient to operate a switch directly without the initial amplification normally required. The whole apparatus of the phototransistor was housed in a tiny cylinder and similar to the transistor, it had no glass envelope, no vacuum, no grid, plate or hot cathode.



    Today, phototransistors are used in a wide variety of electronic circuits and can be used for encoders, card readers, security systems Infra-red detectors, lighting control, opto-couplers, counting systems where a light or IR beam is interrupted for each item counted, and for lighting control.




    The precursor to the LASER, an acronym that stands for "Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation", began at the microwave portion of the spectrum with he MASER, an acronym that stands for "Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation."



    The Birth of LED


    Nick Holonyak Jr, the father of LED, developed the first visible-spectrum LED at General Electric in 1962. He grew up in Southern Illinois, about 80 miles from St. Louis, Missouri and earned his bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.  As a 33 year old scientist working at GE, he invented the first visible light-emitting diode, a red LED.


    For the first 10 years, red LED was the only LED in existence. Ten years later there was green LED and yellow LED. It wouldn't be until the early 90s that blue LEDs went into circulation.  This wasn't the only invention that Holonyak would be famous for.  Beginning in the 80s and continuing through the 90s, when everything went digital including our music, another invention by Holonyak was the red-light semiconductor laser that was used by our CD players to read all those 1s and 0s.





    Back when the only visible light-emitting diode was red,  Holonyak boldly predicted, in the February 1963 issue of Readers Digest, that LEDs would replace the incandescent light bulb of Thomas Edison.  He did this while still at GE, the company that owed its existence to Thomas Edison.  Today that prediction seems quite plausible, LEDs can be seen everywhere, and LEDs are the undisputed, heavy weight champion of longevity.


    Holonyak is currently a John Bardeen Endowed Chair Emeritus in Electrical Engineering and Physics back at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he's been since leaving General Electric in 1963.  Interestingly enough Holonyak himself was once a student of John Bardeen, who co-invented the transistor.


    In 1972, another fellow University of Illinois Alumnus and electrical engineer, M George Craford invented the first yellow colored LED for the Monsanto company gallium arsenide phosphide in the diode.  He also invented a red LED that was ten times brighter than Holonyack's.


    Also worth noting, is that Monsanto was the first company to mass-produce visible LED. In 1968, Monsanto produced red LEDs to be used as indicators, the light output from LEDs was limited in their usefulness to anything more than indicators.  In the 1970s LEDs became popular as Fairchild Optoelectronics started producing low-cost LED devices for manufacturers.


    When Holonyak returned to the University of Illinois he set up a lab with a small group of engineering and physics students.  Like any great innovator he didn't set limits.   Its probably this drive that's led him to change the world his remarkable innovations, besides the LED and the aforementioned laser that's used in CD players, his shorted emitter p-n-p-n switch is used in light dimmers and power tools.


    Holonyak let his students know that they needed to beat the better-funded and larger teams at Bell Labs. Holonyak was able to channel his drive and ambition to his students and lead them toward the forefront of LED and laser technology. In 1972, a former student of his, an electrical engineer by the name of M George Craford, invented the first yellow colored LED for the Monsanto.   He also invented a red LED that was ten times brighter than Holonyack's. Monsanto was the first company to mass-produce visible LED.


    In the 1970s LEDs became popular as Fairchild Optoelectronics started producing low-cost LED devices for manufacturers.


    Blue LED


    Red and Green LED had been around for nearly 50 years until Shuji Nakamura, working at the Nichia Corporation, invented the first high brightness gallium nitride (GaN) LED whose brilliant blue light. Blue LED was first developed at RCA by Herbert Paul Maruska in 1972 but these initial LEDs were not very bright. High brightness gallium nitride (GAN) when partially converted to yellow by phosphor coating was the key to white LED, which went into production in 1993.





    Nakamura's work drew on the work on another Japanese group led by Isamu Akansi who published their method of making strong p-type GaN through electronbeam irradiation of magnesium-doped GaN.


    After they successfully manufactured blue LEDs in 1994, Nichia commercialized green LEDs the following year, and laser diodes in 1999 and Nakamuru was hired on as a professor at The University of California, Santa Barbara that same year.


    Nichia acquired many key LED patents and sold high quality LEDs, as for Nakamuru, he was given $180 for blue GaN LED invention when he left the company in the 90s.  Nakamuru never signed a non disclosure form and turned around and sued Nichia for $180 million in compensation for his LED invention.


    The Japanese court initially award Nakamuru $560 million for his invention but lowered the compensation to the amount Nakamuru had asked for in the complaint. After appeal, the case dragged on until both parties settled for around 7-8 million dollars, or the most money any Japanese Company had to pay through the Japanese courts.  Nakamuru's lawsuit set a precedent for Japanese employees suing their employer.


    Nakamuru has also done work on green LEDs and is responsible for also creating the white LED and blue laser diodes used in Blu-ray Discs and HD DVDs. In 2014, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics "for invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes, which enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources."


    In the 1990s, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura are credited with the first high-brightness LED.  Blue LED was first developed at RCA by Herbert Paul Maruska in 1972 but these initial LEDs were not very bright. Their breakthrough earned them the Nobel Prize in 2014, and paved the way for Holonyak's bold prediction about LEDs overtaking incandescent bulbs one step further.


    With the blue LED, bright white light was now possible and we can now finally witness LEDs making serious inroads in making its ascension over incandescent bulbs a reality.


    LED in Display Technology


    LEDs had a Hollywood introduction to display technology.  When Stanley Kubrick made 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 they attempted to give it a futuristic look by showing technology that never existed before.  In search of clock display that had never been seen before he commissioned Hamilton Watch Company to make a clock with a futuristic display that used red LEDs to show the time.


    Glowing red LED not only worked for the movie, it found its way into the real world. In 1972, The world's first all-electronic digital watch, and first with a digital display, debuted with a red LED watch.  It was called the Pulsar Computer Watch and initially sold for $2100 or roughly $12400 today.While this watch was far from a commercial success,  it forever changed the way we looked at time.



    A semiconductor called alluminum gallium arsenid was used to emit the red light and green LEDs were later added by clock makers by using gallium nitride. Sort of as is the case with the Apple Watch today, because the LEDs used so much power you had to press a button each time you wanted to display.


    One of the major inroads LEDs have made, and relevant to this month's Cool LED Displays theme is in display technology.  Perhaps you remember owning a red LED alarm clock,  which became replaced by a green LED, and if you wanted to get one now you would have to get a blue LED alarm clock.  A mainstream consumer watch under $20 didn't appear until Texas Instruments marketed their LED wrist watches in the mid to late 70s after costs came down and battery power was reduced.  If you can remember red LED alarm clocks, you now know why that color was used.


    Today, LED screens have largely replaced LCD screens and taking up much less space. LEDs have numerous advantages over other light emitting sources such as their efficient and low-energy consumption.  An LED display consists of a number LED panels that in turn consists of several LEDs. LEDs also produce more brilliance and greater light intensity and can be found in a number of modern electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, computer monitors, laptops, and more.




    Your Chance to Win


    Be Original
    Stick to the Theme
    • You could come up with a clever name that make's your project memorable!
      • This project is your baby! Part of the fun of bringing something new into the world is coming up with a name.
    • Your project could introduce something new or that is not commercially available or affordable!
    • If you have an idea for a project that doesn't fit the current theme then submit your idea in the comments section of the monthly poll.
    List the Steps
    Submit Video Proof
    • Provide the steps you took to complete your project (text, video, or images).
      • This could be a step by step how-to-guide, vlog, schematics, coding, napkin drawings, voice narration, or whatever you think will be useful!
    • If it doesn't work that's fine, this is more about the journey than the end product.
    • A short video is all that is required but you can shoot as much video as you like.
    • You are encouraged to be creative and have as much fun as possible!


    Your Project Examples


    Project Outline: LaserScope Music Scanning Laser Project




    Your Prizes


    One Grand Prize Winner Wins a $200 Shopping Cart!Three First Place Winners Win a $100 Shopping Cart
    • One Grand Prize Winner Wins a $200 Shopping Cart!
    • 3 First Place Winners a $100 Shopping Cart!




    Your Project, Your Ideas!


    About Project14

    Every month you'll have a new poll where you'll get to decide an upcoming project competition, based on your interests, that will take place a couple of months in advance. Themes are broad in scope so that everyone can participate regardless of skill set.


    What are Monthly Themes?

    • Every month (around the 14th of each month) a new theme will be posted on Project14.
    • Submit your ideas (proposals) for your projects to get feedback from the rest of the community.
    • Submit a project entry in the Theme space once you start working on it.


    What are Monthly Theme Polls?

    • Every month (around the 14th of each month) there is a project theme poll.
    • Vote on which project competition you want to see for the following upcoming theme.
      • The themes voted on during the previous poll decided the upcoming theme.
      • If you submit an idea for a theme that is not used then it can still be used in a future poll.
    • Themes comments and ideas from the comments section of the project theme poll.

    Step 1: Log in or register on element14, it's easy and free.

    Step 2: Post in the comments section below to begin a discussion on your idea. Videos, pictures and text are all welcomed forms of submission.

    Step 3: Submit a blog post of your progress on your project by the end of the month.  You are free to submit as many blog entries as you like until the beginning of the next theme.


    Be sure to include video proof of your project!


    Visit: Photonics or tag your project blog PhotonicsCH


    You have until April 14th End of Day to submit your completed project!


    A jury consisting of your peers will judge project submissions!


    In the Comments Below Let Us Know Your Ideas for Projects Around Photonics!