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Traditional semiconductor light emitting diodes (LEDs) have low modulation speed because of long spontaneous emission lifetime. Spontaneous emission in semiconductors (and indeed most light emitters) is an inherently slow process owing to the size mismatch between the dipole length of the optical dipole oscillators responsible for light emission and the wavelength of the emitted light. More simply stated: semiconductors behave as a poor antenna for its own light emission.

By coupling a semiconductor at the nanoscale to an external antenna, the spontaneous emission rate can be dramatically increased alluding to the exciting possibility of an antenna-LED that can be directly modulated faster than the laser. Such an antenna-LED is well-suited as a light source for on-chip optical communication where small size, fast speed, and high efficiency are needed to achieve the promised benefit of reduced power consumption of on-chip optical interconnect links compared with less efficient electrical interconnect links.

Despite the promise of the antenna-LED, significant challenges remain to implement an antenna-coupled device in a monolithically integrated manner. Notably, most demonstrations of antenna-enhanced spontaneous emission have relied upon optical pumping of the light emitting material which is useful for fundamental studies; however, an electrical injection scheme is required for practical implementation of an antenna-LED.

In this dissertation, demonstration of an electrically-injected III--V antenna-LED is reported: an important milestone toward on-chip optical interconnects.

In the first part of this dissertation, the general design principles of enhancing the spontaneous emission rate of a semiconductor with an optical antenna is discussed. The cavity-backed slot antenna is shown to be uniquely suited for an electrically-injected antenna-LED because of large spontaneous emission enhancement, simple fabrication, and directional emission of light.

The design, fabrication, and experimental results of the electrically-injected III--V antenna-LED is then presented. Clear evidence of antenna-enhanced electroluminescence is demonstrated including a large increase in the emitted light intensity with respect to an LED without antenna. Furthermore, it is shown that the active region emission wavelength is influenced by the antenna resonance and the emitted light is polarized; consistent with the expected behavior of the cavity-backed slot antenna. An antenna-LED consisting of a InGaAs quantum well active region is shown to have a large 200-fold enhancement of the spontaneous emission rate.

In the last half of this dissertation, the performance of the antenna-LED is discussed. Remarkably, despite the high III--V surface recombination velocity, it is shown that an efficient antenna-LED consisting of an InGaAs active region is possible with an antenna-enhanced spontaneous emission rate. This is true provided the active region surface quality is preserved through the entire device process. A novel technique to preserve and clean InGaAs surfaces is reported. Finally, a rate-equation analysis shows that the optimized antenna-LED with cavity-backed slot antenna is fundamentally capable of achieving greater than 100 GHz direct modulation rate at high efficiency thus showing that an antenna-LED faster than the laser is achievable with this device architecture.

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