Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > Point of light: Caltech engineers invent light-focusing device that may lead to applications in computing, communications, and imaging

Credit: Young-Hee Lee
Credit: Young-Hee Lee

Abstract:
As technology advances, it tends to shrink. From cell phones to laptops—powered by increasingly faster and tinier processors—everything is getting thinner and sleeker. And now light beams are getting smaller, too. Engineers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have created a device that can focus light into a point just a few nanometers (billionths of a meter) across—an achievement they say may lead to next-generation applications in computing, communications, and imaging.



This video shows the final fabrication step of the nanofocusing device. A stream of high-energy gallium ions blasts away unwanted layers of gold and silicon dioxide to carve out the shape of the device.

Point of light: Caltech engineers invent light-focusing device that may lead to applications in computing, communications, and imaging

Pasadena, CA | Posted on December 7th, 2012

Because light can carry greater amounts of data more efficiently than electrical signals traveling through copper wires, today's technology is increasingly based on optics. The world is already connected by thousands of miles of optical-fiber cables that deliver email, images, and the latest video gone viral to your laptop.

As we all produce and consume more data, computers and communication networks must be able to handle the deluge of information. Focusing light into tinier spaces can squeeze more data through optical fibers and increase bandwidth. Moreover, by being able to control light at such small scales, optical devices can also be made more compact, requiring less energy to power them.

But focusing light to such minute scales is inherently difficult. Once you reach sizes smaller than the wavelength of light—a few hundred nanometers in the case of visible light—you reach what's called the diffraction limit, and it's physically impossible to focus the light any further.

But now the Caltech researchers, co-led by assistant professor of electrical engineering Hyuck Choo, have built a new kind of waveguide—a tunnellike device that channels light—that gets around this natural limit. The waveguide, which is described in a recent issue of the journal Nature Photonics, is made of amorphous silicon dioxide—which is similar to common glass—and is covered in a thin layer of gold. Just under two microns long, the device is a rectangular box that tapers to a point at one end.

As light is sent through the waveguide, the photons interact with electrons at the interface between the gold and the silicon dioxide. Those electrons oscillate, and the oscillations propagate along the device as waves—similarly to how vibrations of air molecules travel as sound waves. Because the electron oscillations are directly coupled with the light, they carry the same information and properties—and they therefore serve as a proxy for the light.

Instead of focusing the light alone—which is impossible due to the diffraction limit—the new device focuses these coupled electron oscillations, called surface plasmon polaritons (SPPs). The SPPs travel through the waveguide and are focused as they go through the pointy end.

Because the new device is built on a semiconductor chip with standard nanofabrication techniques, says Choo, the co-lead and the co-corresponding author of the paper, it is easy integrate with today's technology

Previous on-chip nanofocusing devices were only able to focus light into a narrow line. They also were inefficient, typically focusing only a few percent of the incident photons, with the majority absorbed and scattered as they traveled through the devices.

With the new device, light can ultimately be focused in three dimensions, producing a point a few nanometers across, and using half of the light that's sent through, Choo says. (Focusing the light into a slightly bigger spot, 14 by 80 nanometers in size, boosts the efficiency to 70 percent). The key feature behind the device's focusing ability and efficiency, he says, is its unique design and shape.

"Our new device is based on fundamental research, but we hope it's a good building block for many potentially revolutionary engineering applications," says Myung-Ki Kim, a postdoctoral scholar and the other lead author of the paper.

For example, one application is to turn this nanofocusing device into an efficient, high-resolution biological-imaging instrument, Kim says. A biologist can dye specific molecules in a cell with fluorescent proteins that glow when struck by light. Using the new device, a scientist can focus light into the cell, causing the fluorescent proteins to shine. Because the device concentrates light into such a small point, it can create a high-resolution map of those dyed molecules. Light can also travel in the reverse direction through the nanofocuser: by collecting light through the narrow point, the device turns into a high-resolution microscope.

The device can also lead to computer hard drives that hold more memory via heat-assisted magnetic recording. Normal hard drives consist of rows of tiny magnets whose north and south poles lay end to end. Data is recorded by applying a magnetic field to switch the polarity of the magnets.

Smaller magnets would allow more memory to be squeezed into a disc of a given size. But the polarities of smaller magnets made of current materials are unstable at room temperature, causing the magnetic poles to spontaneously flip—and for data to be lost. Instead, more stable materials can be used—but those require heat to record data. The heat makes the magnets more susceptible to polarity reversals. Therefore, to write data, a laser is needed to heat the individual magnets, allowing a surrounding magnetic field to flip their polarities.

Today's technology, however, can't focus a laser into a beam that is narrow enough to individually heat such tiny magnets. Indeed, current lasers can only concentrate a beam to an area 300 nanometers wide, which would heat the target magnet as well as adjacent ones—possibly spoiling other recorded data.

Because the new device can focus light down to such small scales, it can heat smaller magnets individually, making it possible for hard drives to pack more magnets and therefore more memory. With current technology, discs can't hold more than 1 terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) per square inch. A nanofocusing device, Choo says, can bump that to 50 terabytes per square inch.

Then there's the myriad of data-transfer and communication applications, the researchers say. As computing becomes increasingly reliant on optics, devices that concentrate and control data-carrying light at the nanoscale will be essential—and ubiquitous, says Choo, who is a member of the Kavli Nanoscience Institute at Caltech. "Don't be surprised if you see a similar kind of device inside a computer you may someday buy."

The next step is to optimize the design and to begin building imaging instruments and sensors, Choo says. The device is versatile enough that relatively simple modifications could allow it to be used for imaging, computing, or communication.

The title of the Nature Photonics paper is "Nanofocusing in a metal-insulator-metal gap plasmon waveguide with a three-dimensional linear taper." In addition to Choo and Kim, the other authors are Matteo Staffaroni, Tae Joon Seok, Jeffrey Bokor, Ming C. Wu, and Eli Yablonovitch of UC Berkeley and Stefano Cabrini and P. James Schuck of the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. The research was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Science and Technology Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy program, the Department of Energy, and the Division of Engineering and Applied Science at Caltech.

####

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Lawren Markle

626-395-3226

Caltech Media Relations

Copyright © California Institute of Technology

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

U.S. Air Force Research Lab Taps IBM to Build Brain-Inspired AI Supercomputing System: Equal to 64 million neurons, new neurosynaptic supercomputing system will power complex AI tasks at unprecedented speed and energy efficiency June 23rd, 2017

Rice U. chemists create 3-D printed graphene foam June 22nd, 2017

Tiny bubbles provide tremendous propulsion in new microparticles research-Ben-Gurion U. June 21st, 2017

Enhanced photocatalytic activity by Cu2O nanoparticles integrated H2Ti3O7 nanotubes June 21st, 2017

Researchers developed nanoparticle based contrast agent for dual modal imaging of cancer June 21st, 2017

Videos/Movies

Tiny bubbles provide tremendous propulsion in new microparticles research-Ben-Gurion U. June 21st, 2017

Imaging

Researchers developed nanoparticle based contrast agent for dual modal imaging of cancer June 21st, 2017

Cambridge Nanotherm partners with Inabata for global sales and distribution June 20th, 2017

GLOBALFOUNDRIES Launches 7nm ASIC Platform for Data Center, Machine Learning, and 5G Networks FX-7TM offering leverages the company’s 7nm: FinFET process to deliver best in class IP and Solutions June 13th, 2017

The Zeiss Global Centre in the School of Engineering at the University of Portsmouth uses Deben µXCT stages to characterise the structural competence of biological structures June 13th, 2017

Laboratories

Alloying materials of different structures offers new tool for controlling properties June 19th, 2017

Development of low-dimensional nanomaterials could revolutionize future technologies June 15th, 2017

Govt.-Legislation/Regulation/Funding/Policy

U.S. Air Force Research Lab Taps IBM to Build Brain-Inspired AI Supercomputing System: Equal to 64 million neurons, new neurosynaptic supercomputing system will power complex AI tasks at unprecedented speed and energy efficiency June 23rd, 2017

Rice U. chemists create 3-D printed graphene foam June 22nd, 2017

Tiny bubbles provide tremendous propulsion in new microparticles research-Ben-Gurion U. June 21st, 2017

Enhanced photocatalytic activity by Cu2O nanoparticles integrated H2Ti3O7 nanotubes June 21st, 2017

Chip Technology

U.S. Air Force Research Lab Taps IBM to Build Brain-Inspired AI Supercomputing System: Equal to 64 million neurons, new neurosynaptic supercomputing system will power complex AI tasks at unprecedented speed and energy efficiency June 23rd, 2017

Alloying materials of different structures offers new tool for controlling properties June 19th, 2017

GLOBALFOUNDRIES®, ON Semiconductor Deliver the Industry’s Lowest Power Bluetooth® Low Energy SoC Family: 55nm LPx RF-enabled platform, with SST’s highly reliable embedded SuperFlash®, provides low power and cost for IoT and “Connected” Health and Wellness Devices June 19th, 2017

New prospects for universal memory -- high speed of RAM and the capacity of flash: Thin films created at MIPT could be the basis for future development of ReRAM June 17th, 2017

Optical computing/Photonic computing

Learning with light: New system allows optical “deep learning”: Neural networks could be implemented more quickly using new photonic technology June 12th, 2017

Researchers find new way to control light with electric fields May 25th, 2017

Plasmon-powered upconversion nanocrystals for enhanced bioimaging and polarized emission: Plasmonic gold nanorods brighten lanthanide-doped upconversion superdots for improved multiphoton bioimaging contrast and enable polarization-selective nonlinear emissions for novel nanoscal May 19th, 2017

Researchers develop transistors that can switch between two stable energy states May 9th, 2017

Sensors

Leti’s Autonomous-Vehicle System Embedded in Infineon’s AURIX Platform: Leti’s Low-Power, Multi-Sensor System that Transforms Distance Data into Clear Information About the Driving Environment Will Be Demonstrated at ITS Meeting in Strasbourg, June 19-22 June 20th, 2017

New diode features optically controlled capacitance: Israeli researchers have developed a new optically tunable capacitor with embedded metal nanoparticles, creating a metal-insulator-semiconductor diode that is tunable by illumination. June 8th, 2017

Graphene and quantum dots put in motion a CMOS-integrated camera that can see the invisible May 29th, 2017

Ag/ZnO-Nanorods Schottky diodes based UV-PDs are fabricated and tested May 26th, 2017

Discoveries

Rice U. chemists create 3-D printed graphene foam June 22nd, 2017

Tiny bubbles provide tremendous propulsion in new microparticles research-Ben-Gurion U. June 21st, 2017

Enhanced photocatalytic activity by Cu2O nanoparticles integrated H2Ti3O7 nanotubes June 21st, 2017

Researchers developed nanoparticle based contrast agent for dual modal imaging of cancer June 21st, 2017

Announcements

U.S. Air Force Research Lab Taps IBM to Build Brain-Inspired AI Supercomputing System: Equal to 64 million neurons, new neurosynaptic supercomputing system will power complex AI tasks at unprecedented speed and energy efficiency June 23rd, 2017

Rice U. chemists create 3-D printed graphene foam June 22nd, 2017

Tiny bubbles provide tremendous propulsion in new microparticles research-Ben-Gurion U. June 21st, 2017

Enhanced photocatalytic activity by Cu2O nanoparticles integrated H2Ti3O7 nanotubes June 21st, 2017

Military

U.S. Air Force Research Lab Taps IBM to Build Brain-Inspired AI Supercomputing System: Equal to 64 million neurons, new neurosynaptic supercomputing system will power complex AI tasks at unprecedented speed and energy efficiency June 23rd, 2017

Rice U. chemists create 3-D printed graphene foam June 22nd, 2017

Smart materials used in ultrasound behave similar to water, Penn chemists report June 16th, 2017

Zap! Graphene is bad news for bacteria: Rice, Ben-Gurion universities show laser-induced graphene kills bacteria, resists biofouling May 22nd, 2017

Photonics/Optics/Lasers

Rice U. chemists create 3-D printed graphene foam June 22nd, 2017

New carbon nitride material coupled with ruthenium enhances visible-light CO2 reduction in water June 15th, 2017

Changing the color of laser light on the femtosecond time scale: How BiCoO3 achieves second harmonic generation June 14th, 2017

Learning with light: New system allows optical “deep learning”: Neural networks could be implemented more quickly using new photonic technology June 12th, 2017

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project