# ‘Embedded eigenvalue’ holds promise for sensors, lasers, more

There are several ways to confine light, but a new approach uses two waves of the same length, but exactly opposite phases, to cancel each other out, allowing light of other wavelengths to pass freely.

In mathematical terms, the new phenomenon – where one frequency of light is trapped while other nearby frequencies are not – is an example of an “embedded eigenvalue.” While this had been described as a theoretical possibility in 1929 by mathematician and computational pioneer John von Neumann, it had yet to be seen in practice.

Beams of light are usually trapped with traditional or advanced dielectric mirrors, as well as exotic photonic crystals and devices that rely on a phenomenon called Anderson localization. These methods enable a variety of different optical devices including lasers, solar cells and fiber optics. In all of these cases, light’s passage is blocked; in physics terminology, there are no “permitted” states for the light to continue on its path, so it is forced into a reflection.

Researchers at MIT have discovered a new way to trap light using two waves of the same wavelength at exactly opposite phases; they cancel each other out, allowing light of other wavelengths to pass freely. The light is confined within a planar slab with a periodic array of holes; blue and red colors indicate surfaces of equal electric field. Photo courtesy of Chia Wei Hsu

In the new MIT system, however, that is not the case. “It’s a very different way of confining light,” said physics professor Marin Soljacic, who worked with professors John Joannopoulos and Steven Johnson, and graduate students Chia Wei Hsu, Bo Zhen, Jeongwon Lee and Song-Liang Chua on the project.

Devised through computer modeling and then demonstrated experimentally, the system sets up two waves that have the same wavelength but exactly opposite phases – when one wave has a peak, the other has a trough. These waves cancel each other out while the light of other wavelengths can pass through freely. What makes this particular technique so useful is that it can be applied to any type of wave – from sound to radio.

“New physical phenomena often enable new applications,” Hsu said. Such applications could include large-area lasers and chemical or biological sensors.

The investigators, however, are putting the practical applications on the back burner to focus on examining the new, unexpected phenomenon.

The work appeared in Nature (doi: 10.1038/nature12289).

Photonics Spectra
Oct 2013
GLOSSARY
destructive interference
The interaction of superimposed light from two separate sources that results in a combined intensity that is less than the sum of their individual intensities before they were superimposed.
AmericasBasic ScienceBo ZhenChia Wei Hsudestructive interferenceembedded eigenvalueenergyJeongwon LeeJohn JoannopoulosJohn von Neumannlight confinementlight trapsMarin SoljacicMassachusettsmirrorsMIToptical mirrorsopticsphotonic crystalsResearch & TechnologySong-Liang ChuaSteven JohnsonTech Pulse