Philosophical Society of Washington

Minutes of the 2077th Meeting

Speaker: Victor R. McCrary, National Institute of Standards and Technology
Topic: “Manufacturing Infrastructure for Optoelectronics”

President Lettieri called the 2077th meeting to order at 8:18 p.m. on September 5, 1997. The Recording Secretary read the minutes of the 2074th meeting and they were approved.

The speaker for the 2074th meeting was Victor R. McCrary of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The title of his talk was, “Manufacturing Infrastructure for Optoelectronics.”

Mr. McCrary stated that the Information Technology industry has undergone an explosion of growth over the past five years. All told, billions of dollars are at stake. To put everything in perspective, consider that current projections show consumer spending on interactive technology will exceed $12 billion by 1998. Similarly, 50 billion PC's will be sold for networks. Lastly, over $7 billion dollars will be spent on fiber development such as cable, connectors and transceivers. This amount of money is attracting a great deal of attention and profits will abound for developers, manufacturers, testers and distributors of the enabling technology called optoelectronics. Optoelectronics is the enabling technology for electronic information generation, transmission and storage.

All of these pieces and parts will be needed in huge volumes and at low cost as the demand continues to increase. Part of the attention for high volume — low cost production has been directed at the development of an illusive LED that can emit blue light, especially a blue light semiconductor laser. The great new things of related consumer devices involves the shorter wavelength of a blue laser that will provide higher-resolution displays and laser printers and enhanced under water communication systems. Further, blue lasers will replace the infrared lasers currently used in your CD's. This will permit a fourfold increase in the amount of data stored on a CD. Just think, you will soon be subjected to four hours of your teenager's favorite rock singer instead of the one, blessedly short, hour you must now endure.

Mr. McCrary provided an example of problems with mass-producing optoelectronic component using a selected device — a blue light laser. The blue light has a shorter wavelength that existing infrared devices which lends itself to new and expanded applications. Mr. McCrary described steps in the search for the elusive blue light laser. In 1992, a researcher at Nichia Chemical Industries in Tokushima, Japan demonstrated a blue light LED and his company commercialized it within two years. Significantly, even today Nichia's diode is still the highest efficiency blue LED on the market. This is in contrast to the typical order of events following technological advances with commercial promise. The process is usually quickly duplicated and improved upon in other laboratories. However, effective mass production of a high efficiency blue LED remains only at Nichia.

The commercialization of a blue LED and laser is slow, but the secret handshakes to make a reliable diode are being identified one by one. Mr. McCrary described events for one break through with Nichia's commercial gallium nitride crystal. Careful inspection of commercial crystals with impaired performance showed them to be in a strained state. The stained crystal structure significantly impacted the operability and reliability of the associated diodes. Nichia cheerfully replaced the “strained” diodes with “unstrained” devices at no cost and the purchase specifications were upgraded to ensure future crystals were unstrained. However, this fix is only one of a number of break throughs that need to be identified.

Mr. McCrary advised that the commercial demand for large volumes of low cost optoelectronic components continue to increase. A coordinated effort similar to that of the World War II Manhattan Project used to develop the atomic bomb is the only way to develop the needed scientific and engineering requirements necessary to mass produce all of the pieces and parts at low cost.

Mr. McCrary then closed his presentation and kindly responded to questions from the audience. President Lettieri thanked Mr. McCrary for the society and announced the next meeting. He then made the usual parking announcement and adjourned the 2077th meeting to the Social Hour at 9:35 p.m.


Respectfully submitted,
Bill Spargo
Recording Secretary

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