Metalens Design Uses Millions of Holes to Focus Light into Single Point

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Researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) developed a metalens that uses deep narrow holes, rather than tall pillars, to focus light to a single point.

The metasurface uses more than 12 million needle-like holes drilled into a 5-μm silicon membrane, about 1/20 the thickness of a human hair. The diameter of these holes is only a few hundred nanometers, making the aspect ratio nearly 30:1. According to the researchers, it is the first time that holes with such a high aspect ratio have been used in meta-optics.

“This approach may be used to create large achromatic metalenses that focus various colors of light to the same focal spot, paving the way for a generation of high-aspect ratio flat optics, including large-area broadband achromatic metalenses,” said Federico Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at SEAS and senior author of the paper.
Artistic representation of a holey metalens. Courtesy of the Capasso Lab/Harvard SEAS.
Artistic representation of a holey metalens. Courtesy of the Capasso Lab/Harvard SEAS.

The lens focuses incident infrared light into a diffraction-limited spot. Rather than shaping the metasurface optical phase shift alone, the team engineered both transmitted phase and amplitude profiles simultaneously by inverse-designing the lens’ effective index profile. This approach improves the impedance match between the incident and transmitted waves, thereby increasing the focusing efficiency.

“If you tried to make pillars with this aspect ratio, they would fall over,” said Daniel Lim, a graduate student at SEAS and co-first author of the paper. “The holey platform increases the accessible aspect ratio of optical nanostructures without sacrificing mechanical robustness.”

As with nanopillars that vary in size to focus light, the metalens’ holes are variably sized and precisely positioned over the 2-mm lens diameter. The hole size variation bends the light toward the lens focus.

“Holey metasurfaces add a new dimension to lens design by controlling the confinement and propagation of light over a wide parameter space and make new functionalities possible,” said Maryna Meretska, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and co-first author of the paper. “Holes can be filled in with nonlinear optical materials, which will lead to multiwavelength generation and manipulation of light, or with liquid crystals to actively modulate the properties of light.”

The metalenses were fabricated using conventional semiconductor industry processes and standard materials, allowing it to be manufactured at scale in the future.

The Harvard Office of Technology Development has protected the intellectual property relating to this project and is exploring opportunities for commercialization.

The research was published in Nano Letters (

Published: October 2021
A metalens, short for "metasurface lens," is a type of optical lens that uses nanostructured materials to manipulate light at a subwavelength scale. Unlike traditional lenses made of glass or other transparent materials, metalenses do not rely on the curvature of their surface to refract or focus light. Instead, they use carefully engineered patterns of nanostructures, such as nanoscale antennas or dielectric structures, to control the phase and amplitude of light across the lens's surface....
Infrared (IR) refers to the region of the electromagnetic spectrum with wavelengths longer than those of visible light, but shorter than those of microwaves. The infrared spectrum spans wavelengths roughly between 700 nanometers (nm) and 1 millimeter (mm). It is divided into three main subcategories: Near-infrared (NIR): Wavelengths from approximately 700 nm to 1.4 micrometers (µm). Near-infrared light is often used in telecommunications, as well as in various imaging and sensing...
1. The focal point. 2. To adjust the eyepiece or objective of a telescope so that the image is clearly seen by the observer. 3. To adjust the camera lens, plate, or film holder so that the image is rendered distinct. 4. To move an entire microscope body tube relative to a specimen to obtain the sharpest possible image.
aspect ratio
With respect to pictorial displays, the ratio of the width to the height. The television standard in the US is 4:3. High-definition or wide-screen television will have a ratio of 16:9.
Research & TechnologyOpticsmetalensmetasurfaceMaterialsnanopillarsholesHarvardFederico CapassoHarvard UniversityHarvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied SciencesHarvard SEASAmericasinfraredfocusaspect ratioTechnology News

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