Surface-normal multiple quantum well electroabsorption modulators : for optical signal processing and asymmetric free-space communication

Abstract: Electroabsorption is the physical phenomenon by which the absorption of light in a medium can be controlled by applying an electric field. The Quantum–Confined Stark Effect, which makes the absorption band–edge in quantum wells very field–dependent, together with the strong absorption peak provided by excitons, are the physical foundations for the success of electroabsorption modulators based on quantum well structures in telecommunication networks. This thesis describes the design and fabrication of surface–normal electroabsorption modulation devices. The techniques needed to understand the design and fabrication of surface–normal multiple quantum well optical modulators are introduced, as are the various characterisation techniques used during and after the fabrication. Devices for several types of applications have been designed, fabricated, characterised and in some cases integrated into optical systems: – Two–dimensional arrays of 128´128 pixel amplitude modulators grown on GaAs substrates have been fabricated and characterised. Speeds of up to 11700 frames per second were demonstrated, limited by the output electronics of the computer interface. – Large–area modulators grown on GaAs substrates for free–space optical communication were developed, with an active area of 2cm2 and a modulation speed of several megahertz. Contrast ratios up to 5:1 on full modulator areas were measured. Problems limiting the yield and modulation speed of such devices have been studied, and solutions to overcome them have been demonstrated. – Large–area devices grown on InP substrates for free–space optical communication have been developed. Contrast ratios of up to 2:1 for transmissive types have been demonstrated. – Devices consisting of two rows of pixels, grown on GaAs substrates, with an active area of 22mm´5mm, divided into 64 or 128 pixels per row have been developed. These amplitude modulation devices were designed for optical signal processing applications. – One variant of these optical signal processing devices was also characterised as a ternary, binary amplitude and binary phase modulator array. – The use of GaAs multiple quantum well optical modulators in a free–space optical retro–communication system has been studied. An opto–mechanical design for a modulating retro–reflector is described, allowing a large field of view in one direction using reflecting, resonant–cavity modulators for high contrast ratios.