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Tyndall luminary wins optoelectronics prize

Eoin O’Reilly, head of theory, modelling and design at Ireland's Tyndall National Institute has been named as a winner of the prestigious 2014 Rank Prize for Optoelectronics.

O’Reilly received the award for his pioneering work on strained-layer laser structures, which today underpin all optical fibre communication, from long-haul to local area networks, and act as power sources for optical amplifiers – making undersea networks possible. He was honoured as one of four luminary scientists who challenged the widely accepted orthodoxy of the 1980s that semiconductor lasers should be strain-free. The scientists also predicted the benefits of incorporating one strained layer or more in the active regions of semiconductors lasers, thus creating an ideal band structure.

The Rank Prize Fund recognised O’Reilly’s contribution while also honouring his co-researcher at University of Surrey, Alfred Adams and independent work by Eli Yablonovitch at Bell Communications Research and by Gordon Osbourn at Sandia National Laboratories. In challenging the orthodoxy, the researchers’ innovations and use of strained structures reduced threshold currents and increased efficiency and output power. Their work has also maximised operating frequency while decreasing linewidth and frequency chirp, and enabled a wide range of laser wavelengths to be accessed that would not otherwise be possible.

This has led to the dominant role strained lasers now play in a wide range of optoelectronic applications, from DVD and blu-ray storage to printers, and sensing and pollution monitoring at longer wavelengths. Professor O’Reilly’s current work is also focused on extrapolating the energy efficiencies further, with projects seeking to double the efficiency of LEDs with the likelihood that this will be the preferred form of lighting in future.

Congratulating Professor O’Reilly on the award, Kieran Drain, CEO at the Tyndall National Institute, said: 'The Rank Prize only recognises outstanding research which is found to be of significant benefit to mankind. If you look around you – from your high speed internet connection, to your favourite DVD, strained lasers have been the key catalyst to a faster digital world over the past 30 years. Eoin’s blue sky thinking has made him a pivotal member of a small group of pre-eminent researchers in this field and we are delighted that he has been honoured with this prestigious award.'

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