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Feature Story | Argonne National Laboratory

Chain Reaction Innovations project at Argonne aims to fill critical computing needs

Research team harnesses Center for Nanoscale Materials power to explore emerging materials for energy-efficient computing.

The demand for computing power continues to accelerate with each passing year as consumers grow ever more reliant on smart phones and the data centers that keep them functional. 

Chad Husko, a physicist specializing in nanoscale optical materials and devices, believes advanced laser technology is critical to fulfilling this growing need. 

Husko, formerly the Alexei Abrikosov Fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, said the search for silicon-based light sources evolved from a scientific quest to alleviate a major technological bottleneck for scalable, complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor light sources. 

In an effort to help solve this problem, he currently leads a research program on hybrid silicon lasers that he hopes will harness emerging materials for applications in silicon photonics for energy-efficient computing and data centers. 

He and his team were selected in 2018 to participate in a competitive two-year program called Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI) to grow their invention. 

CRI, funded by the DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, gives innovators a two-year runway to develop and scale their technologies while being supported through fellowship funding that covers salary, benefits, and use of laboratory equipment and office space. 

We are excited to have Chad back at Argonne working with the CRI program,” said John Carlisle, CRI director. This innovation will enable the integration of lasers and electronics on a scale that simply could not be realized using traditional approaches, dramatically improving the manufacturability of such devices, which is one of the main goals of the CRI program.”

Husko looks forward to working closely with CRIIntegrated photonics is already a key enabling technology in data centers like the Cloud, where our Google searches live,” Husko said. They remain integral in telecommunications where we send internet traffic and are quickly becoming an enabler for autonomous vehicle sensors helping self-driving cars see’ their environment. This is just the beginning of what we know today, and plenty of unexpected applications await.”

Husko believes the technology has the potential to broadly impact all integrated opto-electronics. 

Our hybrid silicon lasers are a foundational component of optical integrated circuits expected to foster 21st century innovation akin to vast advances in computing brought about by the electronic revolution of the 20th century,” he said. Specifically, our silicon laser is a strong candidate to be the light source in the opto-electronic integrated circuits driving, for example, data centers and super-computing facilities that increasingly rely on optics for improved performance.”

MERF is a world-class facility for scaling materials from lab scale to industrial processes, a pretty rare resource that we’re delighted is right here at Argonne. We’re looking forward to working with the MERF team to scale the raw materials that go into the laser.” — Chad Husko, physicist and Chain Reaction Innovations team member


In 2017, Husko and colleagues conducted the first proof-of-concept experiments, showing light emission in the hybrid silicon-phosphorene system. They are currently seeking a patent for their technology. 

Husko believes Argonne is the ideal location for this type of research. The laboratory’s Center for Nanoscale Materials, a DOE Office of Science User Facility, is equipped with a wide variety of tools required to see and interact with nanoscale devices and materials, which is the size scale of many of the features of Husko’s laser technology. 

Access to capabilities at the Center for Nanoscale Materials has made advances in this technology possible,” said Husko. We’re using a material that emerged only recently to make our laser, and there are still fundamental properties we’re looking to uncover,” he said. Husko is also working with the Materials Engineering Research Facility (MERF). 

MERF is a world-class facility for scaling materials from lab-scale to industrial processes, a pretty rare resource that we’re delighted is right here at Argonne,” Husko said. We’re looking forward to working with the MERF team to scale the raw materials that go into the laser.”

Husko, who earned his Ph.D. and M.S. in applied physics from Columbia University and B.S. in physics and mathematics from Loyola University Chicago, has co-authored 30 peer-reviewed papers, given more than 20 seminars around the world, and holds three pending or issued patents. 

A former Fulbright Scholar, he is also actively involved in the Optical Society (OSA), a global professional society with more than 20,000 members working in academic, industrial and government positions across 100 countries. In 2017, he received the designation of OSA Senior Member” for his technical and service contributions.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) mission is to accelerate the research, development, demonstration, and deployment of technologies and solutions to equitably transition America to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050, and ensure the clean energy economy benefits all Americans, creating good paying jobs for the American people — especially workers and communities impacted by the energy transition and those historically underserved by the energy system and overburdened by pollution.

About Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials
The Center for Nanoscale Materials is one of the five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers, premier national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale supported by the DOE Office of Science. Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with state-of-the-art capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The NSRCs are located at DOE’s Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge, Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories. For more information about the DOE NSRCs, please visit https://​sci​ence​.osti​.gov/​U​s​e​r​-​F​a​c​i​l​i​t​i​e​s​/​U​s​e​r​-​F​a​c​i​l​i​t​i​e​s​-​a​t​-​a​-​G​lance.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.