Soliton Kerr Frequency Combs Generated in Integrated Photonic Chips

In 2007 a new method to generate optical frequency combs was discovered. In contrast to conventional frequency combs which are generated from pulsed laser sources, these Kerr frequency combs (also known as microresonator frequency combs) are generated entirely by nonlinear effects from a single, strong continuous wave pump laser that is coupled to a microresonator. Within the first few years the field of Kerr frequency combs was able to achieve many milestone results such as fully stabilized spectra, demonstrations of several applications and octave spanning spectra. However, in particular broad Kerr frequency comb spectra showed low coherence. The reason for this was the emergence of noise intrinsic to the process behind the generation of these early Kerr frequency combs. Within the first year of my PhD this situation changed radically with the discovery of temporal dissipative Kerr solitons in crystalline microresonators in our group. These states feature a pulsed output that originates from the nonlinear dynamics inside the microresonator which enables broadband and coherent Kerr frequency combs. The dissipative Kerr solitons inside the microresonator represent a pulse shape that maintains itself indefinitely while propagating around the resonator. This is possible because all the losses that occur are compensated by the continuous wave pump laser. The deformation of the waveform that is usually caused by the dispersion of the cavity on the other hand is compensated by the nonlinearity of the medium. My work shows for the first time that these dissipative Kerr soliton states do also exist in integrated microresonator platforms. The microresonator platform that was used here are planar silicon nitride waveguide resonators with silicon dioxide cladding. In order to allow for soliton generation the fabrication of the integrated microresonators had to be optimized. Once the desired soliton states were demonstrated in the integrated microresonators an experimental protocol to stabilize these otherwise instable soliton states was developed. Thanks to this protocol it was possible to investigate key properties of the soliton states. In particular it was possible to observe a phenomenon known as dispersive wave or soliton Cherenkov radiation in microresonators for the first time and to show that the dissipative Kerr soliton states remain stable and coherent in the presence of the dispersive wave. In addition the dispersive wave broadens the optical spectrum substantially. The resulting gain in optical bandwidth allowed for the self-referencing of the Kerr frequency comb without using conventional broadening techniques. In an independent experiment the full phase stabilization with respect to an optical reference was also demonstrated and verified. Several additional effects were discovered which had substantial influence on the soliton dynamics inside the microresonator and which had not been observed before in microresonators such as the Raman frequency shift, a shift of the dispersive wave and the interaction of multiple solitons inside the cavity. In summary my work opens the door towards coherent Kerr frequency combs with large bandwidth from integrated photonic chips. Such frequency combs can find use in different applications such as optical data transmission, which we also demonstrated in a collaboration with a research group from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.


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