A Traffic Stop for Light
Stanford scientists slow and steer light with resonant nanoantennas
+ Stanford scientists demonstrate a new approach to slow light significantly, much like an echo chamber holds onto sound, and to direct it at will. Researchers in the lab of Jennifer Dionne, associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford, structured ultrathin silicon chips into nanoscale bars to resonantly trap light and then release or redirect it later. These “high-quality-factor” or “high-Q” resonators could lead to novel ways of manipulating and using light, including new applications for quantum computing, virtual reality and augmented reality; light-based WiFi; and even the detection of viruses like SARS-CoV-2.
This innovation could also be useful in quantum science. For example, splitting photons to create entangled photons that remain connected on a quantum level even when far apart would typically require large tabletop optical experiments with big expensive precisely polished crystals. “If we can do that, but use our nanostructures to control and shape that entangled light, maybe one day we will have an entanglement generator that you can hold in your hand,” Lawrence said. “With our results, we are excited to look at the new science that’s achievable now, but also trying to push the limits of what’s possible.”
+ “We’re essentially trying to trap light in a tiny box that still allows the light to come and go from many different directions,” said postdoctoral fellow Mark Lawrence, who is also lead author of the paper. “It’s easy to trap light in a box with many sides, but not so easy if the sides are transparent – as is the case with many Silicon-based applications.”
+ A central component of the device is an extremely thin layer of silicon, which traps light very efficiently and has low absorption in the near-infrared, the spectrum of light the scientists want to control. The silicon rests atop a wafer of transparent material (sapphire, in this case) into which the researchers direct an electron microscope “pen” to etch their nanoantenna pattern. The pattern must be drawn as smoothly as possible, as these antennas serve as the walls in the echo-chamber analogy, and imperfections inhibit the light-trapping ability.
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