Berkeley announces breakthrough in plasmonics

A team of researchers with the US Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California, Berkeley, have carried out the first experimental demonstration of GRIN - for gradient index - plasmonics, a hybrid technology that opens the door to a wide range of exotic optics, including superfast computers based on light rather than electronic signals, ultra-powerful optical microscopes able to resolve DNA molecules with visible light, and 'invisibility' carpet-cloaking devices.

Working with composites featuring a dielectric (non-conducting) material on a metal substrate, and 'grey-scale' electron beam lithography, a standard method in the computer chip industry for patterning 3D surface topographies, the researchers have fabricated highly efficient plasmonic versions of Luneburg and Eaton lenses. A Luneburg lens focuses light from all directions equally well, and an Eaton lens bends light 90 degrees from all incoming directions.

'This past year, we used computer simulations to demonstrate that with only moderate modifications of an isotropic dielectric material in a dielectric-metal composite, it would be possible to achieve practical transformation optics results,' says Xiang Zhang, who led this research.

'Our GRIN plasmonics technique provides a practical way for routing light at very small scales and producing efficient functional plasmonic devices.'

GRIN plasmonics combines methodologies from transformation optics and plasmonics, two rising new fields of science that could revolutionize what we are able to do with light. In transformation optics, the physical space through which light travels is warped to control the light's trajectory, similar to the way in which outer space is warped by a massive object under Einstein's relativity theory. In plasmonics, light is confined in dimensions smaller than the wavelength of photons in free space, making it possible to match the different length-scales associated with photonics and electronics in a single nanoscale device.

'Applying transformation optics to plasmonics allows for precise control of strongly confined light waves in the context of two-dimensional optics,' Zhang says. 'Our technique is analogous to the well-known GRIN optics technique, whereas previous plasmonic techniques were realized by discrete structuring of the metal surface in a metal-dielectric composite.'

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