Tech Briefs

Software Analyzes Heat Buildup in VCSELs

Modeling allows redesign without diminishing reliability.

Internal heating is a key issue for vertical cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSELs), a semiconductor microlaser diode that emits light in a cylindrical beam vertically from the surface of a fabricated wafer. They generally have higher thermal impedance than edgeemitting lasers and are fairly efficient for optical devices, running at roughly 25% efficiency in contrast to light emitting diodes’ (LEDs) typical 2% to 3%. For instance, they produce 10 mW of optical power from a 40-mW input; the remaining is dissipated as heat.

alt How easily a laser dissipates heat varies with the physical design. A buildup of heat in the active region can reduce device efficiency along with reliability and operating lifetime. Because VCSELs are narrowband devices, in this case generating energy at a wavelength of 850 nm, the length of the optical cavity changes as it heats up and the wavelength shifts at a rate of roughly 0.6 Å/°C.

A study was conducted to estimate the total temperature increase around the device’s active region as a function of drive current. The study used a 350- μm VCSEL die made of gallium arsenide (GaAs) with a gold bonding pad on top to examine internal temperature distribution. Each die was bonded at its base to a ceramic pedestal with a silver epoxy. One of the main goals was to determine the effects of going from a die size of 350 μm on an edge to 220 μm. While this reduction would allow more devices per wafer and lead to lower manufacturing costs, the reduced cross section (through which heat escapes) would also lead to a higher thermal resistance.

Geometry was created and heat transfer by conduction was modeled using the 3D Heat Transfer Application Mode of the COMSOL Multiphysics mathematical modeling package. Figure 1 shows the result of the VCSEL cube. Note that the aperture through which the light leaves the device is located in the center of the gold pad on the top of the die. Following the rendering of the geometry, boundary conditions were defined based on several assumptions: the VCSEL is the only heat source; all surfaces in direct contact with air lose heat at a rate governed by Newton’s law of cooling; and the coefficient of heat transfer h = 0.1 W/m2-K.

Conditions at the bottom face are also important because in a real application the die attaches to the physical package and provides a path for heat to flow. This model assumes that the package is attached to a large heat sink that can handle as much heat as the device can produce, so the base of the VCSEL die is set at a constant ambient temperature. To help set these boundary values, and verify the model’s validity, researchers used an infrared camera to measure the actual temperature on the VCSEL’s top face and sides, which were coated with India ink to make them highly emissive. Then, a miniature thermocouple was bonded onto the device base. The results from the camera and thermocouple agreed, confirming that the camera-based temperatures were valid on all device surfaces.

Next, the coefficients for the underlying heat equation were set to:

ρC T/t -∇ • (k∇T) = Q

alt This model considers only the steadystate case, ignoring the first term. The model dealt with three different subdomains (the gallium arsenide, the gold, and the VCSEL itself), each with its own thermal conductivity. With the model set up, the software then generated a mesh for the entire geometry (see Figure 2).