Coleman explores novel semiconductor nanostructures

ECE News

Laurel Bollinger, ECE ILLINOIS

Story Highlights

  • ECE Prof. James Coleman has been studying new areas of nanophotonics.
  • He has been exploring nanopores and their potential use in lasers.
  • Nanopores could help provide secure communications channels.

James J. Coleman
James J. Coleman

“For me, there are lots of reasons why people are interested in nanostructures,” said ECE Professor  James J Coleman, “and right now people are talking about nanotechnology and the many possible applications.”

Coleman is passionate about his research in the area of photonics, and he is currently exploring new and challenging possibilities in the area of nanophotonics, especially nanostructures.

“The whole point of nanostructures is to create artificial small, carefully shaped and sized bits of material that have quantum-like properties that aren’t atomic, but start to look more like atoms,” said Coleman. “If you can make these bits of materials and imbed them in a sea of other materials, they have some of the sharp spectral properties that you see in atoms.”

Coleman said that there are many different areas of nanostructures, but he is specifically focused on changing the properties of light emitters or detectors to take advantage of these bits of material having some behavior that seems to mimic the behavior of atoms. “That’s the easy part. Now go make one-- that’s the hard part,” said Coleman. “We want to make them in a controlled way so that when I specify what size I want, it needs to be that size, which is not just small, but precisely small.”

Through his research, Coleman has discovered a new structure that has interesting possibilities that themselves also pose a bit of a challenge. “It’s called a nanopore,” said Coleman. “It is the inverse image of quantum dots. Quantum dots have a bit of material with a small energy gap in a matrix of material that has a larger energy gap. We have now a small energy gap where we’re inserting bits of materials that are larger energy gaps.”

Coleman is interested in exploring nanopores from the point of views of lasers. “It could be important for censors or detectors or solar cells or transistors, electronic devices of various sorts,” he said. “But it’s so early that we’re doing just basic physics and experiments to explain why they behave the way they do.”

There are many different reasons why people are interested in nanostructures right now but Coleman is focused particularly on one concept: quantum communications. “This is a fundamentally secure communications thing,” Coleman said. “If you can take a single photon, one particle of light, there are some rules of quantum mechanics that say, if I send this from me to you, nobody can eavesdrop on it because the very act of receiving it destroys it. That is fundamentally secure.”

With security a very important topic and quantum communication systems an equally important and interesting area of research, Coleman finds this area exciting. “Secure quantum communication systems is an area that intrigues me,” he said. And though Coleman doesn’t believe it will be an easy research project, “I think that it’s going to be fun to work on.”

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