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Nanoscale Photon Diode Could Further Next-Gen Computing Technologies

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STANFORD, Calif., July 29, 2019 — Researchers at Stanford University are designing a way to make a photon diode, a device that allows light to flow in only one direction, small enough for consumer electronics. They have tested their design with computer simulations and calculations and have created the nanostructures necessary for installing the light source they hope will bring their theorized photon diode to life.

Traditionally, photon diodes must be relatively large in order to produce the strong rotation of light polarization that is required to control the flow of light. As an alternative, the Stanford team created rotation in crystal using another light beam instead of a magnetic field. In this all-optical, magnet-free scheme, the light beam was polarized so that its electrical field took on a spiral motion, which, in turn, generated rotating acoustic vibrations in the crystal that gave it magnetic-like spinning abilities and enabled more light to be emitted. To make the structure both small and efficient, the researchers manipulated and amplified the light with nanoantennas and nanostructured materials.

The researchers designed arrays of ultrathin silicon disks that worked in pairs to trap the light and enhance its spiraling motion until it exited the diode. This enhanced the transmission of light moving forward. When illuminated in the reverse direction, the acoustic vibrations in the crystal spun in the opposite direction and helped to cancel out any light trying to exit.

The researchers said that theoretically, there is no limit to how small this system could be. For their simulations, they imagined structures as thin as 250 nm, demonstrating nanoscale nonreciprocal transmission of free-space beams at near-infrared frequencies with a 250-nm thick silicon metasurface as well as a fully subwavelength plasmonic gap nanoantenna.


"Achieving compact, efficient photonic diodes is paramount to enabling next-generation computing, communication, and even energy conversion technologies."
Assc. Prof. Jennifer Dionne
The team believes these research results could provide a foundation for compact, nonreciprocal communication and computing technologies, from nanoscale optical isolators and full-duplex nanoantennas to topologically protected networks.

“One grand vision is to have an all-optical computer where electricity is replaced completely by light and photons drive all information processing,” researcher Mark Lawrence said. “The increased speed and bandwidth of light would enable faster solutions to some of the hardest scientific, mathematical, and economic problems.”

The researchers are also interested in how their work could influence the development of neuromorphic computers. This goal would require additional advances in other light-based components, such as nanoscale light sources and switches.

“Our nanophotonic devices may allow us to mimic how neurons compute — giving computing the same high interconnectivity and energy efficiency of the brain, but with much faster computing speeds,” professor Jennifer Dionne said.

The research was published in Nature Communications (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-11175-z).  

Published: July 2019
Glossary
nano
An SI prefix meaning one billionth (10-9). Nano can also be used to indicate the study of atoms, molecules and other structures and particles on the nanometer scale. Nano-optics (also referred to as nanophotonics), for example, is the study of how light and light-matter interactions behave on the nanometer scale. See nanophotonics.
nanophotonics
Nanophotonics is a branch of science and technology that explores the behavior of light on the nanometer scale, typically at dimensions smaller than the wavelength of light. It involves the study and manipulation of light using nanoscale structures and materials, often at dimensions comparable to or smaller than the wavelength of the light being manipulated. Aspects and applications of nanophotonics include: Nanoscale optical components: Nanophotonics involves the design and fabrication of...
plasmonics
Plasmonics is a field of science and technology that focuses on the interaction between electromagnetic radiation and free electrons in a metal or semiconductor at the nanoscale. Specifically, plasmonics deals with the collective oscillations of these free electrons, known as surface plasmons, which can confine and manipulate light on the nanometer scale. Surface plasmons are formed when incident photons couple with the conduction electrons at the interface between a metal or semiconductor...
optoelectronics
Optoelectronics is a branch of electronics that focuses on the study and application of devices and systems that use light and its interactions with different materials. The term "optoelectronics" is a combination of "optics" and "electronics," reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of this field. Optoelectronic devices convert electrical signals into optical signals or vice versa, making them crucial in various technologies. Some key components and applications of optoelectronics include: ...
Research & TechnologyeducationAmericasStanford Universityphoton diodesOpticsMaterialsmetamaterialsnanonanophotonicsplasmonicsnano devicesLight SourcesoptoelectronicsRaman scattering

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