ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Sandia National Laboratories invented a method to integrate microscale optical devices on silicon microchips. To accomplish this, the lab said it uses lasers so small that a microscope is needed to see them.

Sandia said its newly patented method will allow the lab to build high-bandwidth, high-speed optical devices, including indium phosphide lasers, lithium niobate modulators, germanium detectors, and low-loss acoustic-optic isolators which they say are all critical components for high-power optical systems.

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The lab said building a laser on silicon is a challenging and unusual feat that could extend America’s leadership in semiconductor technology. “This allows the U.S. to lead and have less dependency on foreign manufacturing capabilities,” said Patrick Chu, co-leader of the National Security Photonics Center at Sandia’s Microsystems Engineering, Science and Applications complex.

The laser can now be combined with other microscale optical devices to make self-driving cars safer, data centers more efficient, biochemical sensors more portable, and radars and other defense technologies more versatile, according to Sandia National Laboratories.