Published Wichita State chemists discover laser materials

What do you picture when you think of lasers? Laser pointers? Perhaps laser eye surgery or barcode scanners?

Turns out there’s more to lasers than most people realize, and a Wichita State University chemistry team recently discovered a new series of laser material with potential commercial use.

Vivian Nguyen, an undergraduate who recently graduated at WSU, and Dr. Jian Wang, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, discovered new laser materials (KX)P2S6(X=Sb, Bi, Ba) made up of many important elements.

That discovery has landed their research in Chemical Science, the flagship journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Through their research, Nguyen and Wang discovered a series of nonlinear optic material through lasers and crystal structure engineering.

The manufacturing and medical industries are always eager to get more lasers with various frequencies to allow for more complex efforts to be achieved. One important way to discover new lasers is through the second harmonic generation process. This process merges two laser photons together, making it possible for them to create a new series of lasers, where nonlinear optic material is at the heart of the outcome.

Wang said that “when you do eye surgery, a green laser is utilized. Even for your high-power laser pointer, it utilizes infrared lasers. From daily life to industry, lasers play very important roles.”

The materials by Wang and Nguyen, known as KXP2S6(X=Sb, Bi, Ba), exhibited extraordinary properties, and is many times better than well-developed commercially available material AgGaS2.

“We are discovering novel materials, which have potential to replace current commercial materials,” Wang said. “Our material is cheaper and double the efficiency.”

Wang and Nguyen compare their discovery to upgrading a phone to its newest model.

“Basically, it is upgrading previous material,” Nguyen said. “And it is not just a slight improvement. It is much better.”

The laser exhibits properties that make the upgrade tangible. It has a high laser output, and the materials can be used broadly. It also sets the record for the largest bandgap which increases the laser efficiency.

 “Like kids playing with LEGOs, crystal structure engineering is about packing small atoms on a very small scale,” said Wang.

The diffractometer has several moving parts. One looks like a needle for the single crystal to be observed. It is all behind glass. Tessa Karbowski
The single crystal diffractometer is used to visualize atoms and their structures. 

Published in the Chemical Science journal

To add to Nguyen and ang’s achievements, their work was published in Chemical Science, the flagship journal published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

“We had our work published in the top tier journal worldwide,” Wang said. “There are only three top-tier chemical journals like this. In my whole career, this is not very common for such work to be achieved by an undergraduate student.”

The journal is selective in what it publishes.

“Sometimes when you submit the paper or research, it can take a long time to be accepted — typically few months,” Nguyen said. “It was very surprising that we got accepted quickly. It is my first paper, and I’ve never experienced anything like this.”

Wang acknowledges the achievement takes hard work to be accepted.

“It is not easy,” Wang said. “Even with great experience, it is hard to get your work published in that journal.”

As a part of applied studies, Wang’s lab has gone beyond lectures in the classroom.

“The research trains your mind to be a critical thinker because you encounter many problems and have to think scientifically to solve them,” Wang said. “This is a benefit for the students at large because in the future when they get a job, we are confident because they can apply their critical thinking well and find a solution.”

Nguyen says getting a head start on research and working with Wang have helped her achieve these findings.

“It is a very supportive environment here, actually, and my research here has been successful, so it is very encouraging, please do think joining a research lab as early as possible,” Nguyen said.

“Join the research lab and apply what you learned from classroom, you will gain more than you expected,” Wang added.

In the future, they hope to get a patent for their findings to create all types of useful material.

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