The blue laser diode in optical disk drive technology

By the late 1990s blue lasers were used for making the masters for DVD discs, but this process used hugely expensive special laser-beam recorders the size of a wardrobe and needing a super-clean, vibration-free environment in which to work properly. The challenge for optical drive manufacturers was to enable blue laser technology to be effective in a form that would fit into the space afforded by a PC-ROM drive. However, getting a blue laser to fire out of a small enough diode at one end and not simultaneously punch a hole out of its rear end had stumped the world’s leading technologists for decades. The objective was clear: to find a blue laser technology that was commercially viable. It had to be small, capable of being mass produced, and be affordable to run for home users – the amount of power the laser needs to produce is a lot for a device hardly bigger than a match-head. Almost from the outset, DVD’s limitations were known, so even while the DVD wars publically raged, scientists frantically sought for its successor in the research labs of industry giants worldwide. One man, however, working away from the crowd, quietly developed an answer. Shuji Nakamura was pretty much unknown, and worked for what was then a very small time chemical company, the Nichia Corporation. Away from what he regarded as the controlling, stifling influence of conventional corporate wisdom, he used methods and materials that the big gun scientists had shunned. And yet, with comparatively limited funds and resources, Shuji was the one who made the breakthrough. Shuji built upon work gone before. In...

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