Lehighs Nelson Tansu: building an optics revolution, one atom at a time

“Semangatnya tinggi, tekun, visioner…” or “extremely enthusiastic, hard-working, and full of vision” is one of many phrases quickly circulating through Indonesian press, praising one of Lehigh University’s finest new professors. This may explain why Professor Nelson Tansu’s web page describing his research on semiconductor nanostructures and optoelectronics is among the top three visited within the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering & Applied Science domain.
Nelson Tansu, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is recognized and embraced in his home country of Indonesia for his early success as a researcher and professor. In fact, stories of his recent achievements are carried by Indonesian-language media outlets all over the world, such as the publications The Daily Java Post, GATRA, and Medan Bisnis. He’s even done broadcast interviews for BBC Radio, and has been flown several times to Washington, D.C., for television interviews with Voice of America and SCTV (Indonesia).
“Menjadi professor bidang sains di universitas merupakan impiam dia sejak kecil,” or, “To be a professor in the field of science at a university has been his passion since he was a child.” According to Tansu, he chose semiconductor optoelectronics as his area of research because of its ability to integrate diverse fields of study – physics, electrical engineering, and materials science.
It’s no wonder that Tansu's home country is proud of his achievements. His work in semiconductor nanostructures and optoelectronics has gained him a reputation among researchers across several disciplines. Tansu’s interdisciplinary research leads him to find creative ways of developing real-world engineering applications, based upon the fundamental aspects of physics, that ripple across many of Lehigh's engineering research interests.
Tansu’s research involves fabrication of semiconductor nanostructures one atomic layer at a time using a semiconductor compound of indium gallium arsenide nitride. Fabrication of these semiconductors may help significantly reduce the amount of electrical energy needed to operate lasers -- a hurdle in the path of optics researchers all over the world. An improved understanding of the physics of these lasers would also allow for optimized performance of these devices at high temperatures, another current issue among optics researchers. In terms of practical application, high-performance lasers based on this research could one day integrate with other optical components into a single chip, leading to low-cost photonic circuits that would represent a major breakthrough in the computing and telecommunications industries.
Tansu’s work on semiconductor nanostructures for optoelectronic devices will receive a tremendous lift from the new Smith Family Laboratory for Optical Technologies at Lehigh University. With the recent acquisition of two metal organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) reactors, Tansu’s research will have state-of-the-art equipment and facilities for direct nanofabrication of semiconductor nanostructures and optoelectronic devices. Applications directly associated with these complex high-performance, optically-integrated circuits include biological sensors and/or chemical sensors, emitter devices for biomedical applications, and efficient emitters for visible solid-state lighting and military applications. This research could lead to, for example, miniature devices that detect bio-agent threats such as anthrax. These devices are currently the size of a suitcase, and thus somewhat unwieldy for practical application. Nelson's efforts could help reduce them to the size of a shirt button, which would make them much more practical in real-world use.
Through theoretical and experimental work that combines many different research areas, Tansu continues to revolutionize semiconductor nanotechnology and optoelectronics devices for telecommunications systems and potential biological sensors, drawing international attention and recognition to his research and to Lehigh University.