The Blue Laser Diode

The Blue Laser Diode. The Complete Story

The story of Shuji Nakamura and the blue laser diode is remarkable. It is clear from this book that he enjoys this fact and wishes his readers to become familiar with his success. Nakamura was a little known researcher at a small but successful Japanese company, Nichia Chemical, on Shikoku, one of Japan's four main islands. One of their successful lines was phosphors for fluorescent lights. In 1989, Nakamura was given a few million dollars by the company's Chairman Nobuo Ogawa. Nakamura chose to research into blue light emitters using gallium nitride, a material that had been studied by Pankove at RCA some 20 years earlier and largely written off by the conventional semiconductor industry. In spite of many factors against progress, this second edition of The Blue Laser Diode testifies to the success of this gamble.

The book is subtitled `The complete story'. This is an unlikely epithet for the book because there is still a long way to go. The book is written with a mixture of academic integrity and commercial trumpet blowing. There is too often a lack of detail and logical order. There is inadequate discussion of the case for and against other materials such as ZnSe. One feels that the commercial pressure not to give away all the answers about gallium nitride has triumphed over the wish for scientific disclosure to enable results to be repeated.

The book clearly reports the two most significant difficulties faced by gallium nitride. First, it appeared from Pankove's work that it would not to be easy to find an appropriate p-type dopant that could make suitable p-n junctions. Two chapters consider this problem, starting with low energy electron beam irradiation and then in the second chapter considering thermal annealing in nitrogen. The writing and detail suggest that it is still a technology rather than science (or, perhaps more unkindly, cook-book recipes of time and temperature).

The second important difficulty is that gallium nitride has too many dislocations for long-life laser action. Growth on sapphire with appropriate buffer layers is described as an initial step in reducing the dislocations. Later in the book, it is recognized that InxGa1-xN offers greater versatility, and this is considered in more detail along with InGaN/AlGaN double heterostructures. Regrettably it is not easy though to dig out from this book all the details of lattice matching that are required and how successful lattice matching has been in removing dislocations and increasing lifetime. Clearly the general trend of longer lifetimes means that there has been useful success. Blue laser diodes are now claimed to be commercially available with lifetimes measured in thousands of hours while blue light emitting diodes, with their lower current densities, are said to have lifetimes measurable in years.

The book has a little for everyone. Applications are noted briefly as well as blow-by-blow accounts of the manufacturing technology of double heterostructure, multi-quantum well lasers and progress to room temperature operation. Applications range from the mundane traffic light, through full colour displays to 15-20 Gbyte optically read data storage discs. Interestingly it is the mundane applications that may have the biggest financial impact. A statistic that appears on the Internet is that if all the traffic signals in Japan could be switched to suitable LEDs then one could save the construction of at least one nuclear power plant.

Although Nakamura is an admirer of Pankove's work, the writing and scientific style does not match that of Pankove. Nevertheless the book records a thorough solid achievement and as such there should be a similar solid basis for many readers in materials science and laser technology wishing to read this book.

The book regrettably gives no indication why Nakamura has left Nichia for a Professorship at Santa Barbara after such magnificent early support by Nichia. Nor does the book explain why Nakamura's co-author Gerhard Fasol is undercutting the joint venture by selling for $15 over the web a 28 page summary about blue laser diodes using gallium nitride. However, if price is no consideration, there is also advertised on the web a 222 page report SC-23 from Strategies Unlimited entitled `Gallium Nitride 2000 - Technology Status, Applications, and Market Forecast' for a modest $3950. Clearly the present book cannot be `the complete story'. That will run for quite a time yet.

John Carroll