Recent years have seen rising interest in optical system-on-a-chip sensors for biological applications. Vertical cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSELs) are a natural choice for array-based sensors requiring high power and low noise. However, much of the noise characterization of VCSELs has been performed in frequency ranges on the order of 108 to 1010 Hz, whereas many physiological phenomena occur in frequency bands in the hertz to kilohertz range where 1/f and 1/f 2 noise is dominant. In this work we characterize the relative intensity noise (RIN) of commercial VCSEL devices and evaluate their feasibility for use in an integrated semiconductor optical sensor for functional brain imaging using Intrinsic Optical Signals (IOS). Our results show RIN on the order of -196 to -174 dB/Hz at an offset of 10 Hz. This is well below the signal-to-background and dynamic range requirements of 6 dB and 86 dB, respectively, for this application.© (2008) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.