Tunable, Nonlinear Metamaterials Could Facilitate Optical Communication

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Scientists from the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Lowell, King’s College London, Paris Diderot University, and the University of Hartford have found that several materials with poor nonlinear characteristics can be combined together to form a new metamaterial that exhibits state-of-the-art nonlinear properties.

Tunable, nonlinear metamaterial, UMass Lowell.
The illustration shows two incoming (red) photons being converted into one reflected (green) photon as result of light interaction with the nanowire structure in the metamaterial. The nanowires are about 100 nanometers apart from center to center, which is about one-fifty-thousandth the diameter of human hair. Courtesy of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

“The enhancement comes from the way the metamaterial reshapes the flow of photons,” said professor Viktor Podolskiy, the project’s principal investigator at UMass Lowell. The new class of metamaterial can be structurally tuned to change the color of the light, resulting in a photon that exhibits a different level of energy.

Enabling the interaction of photons is key to faster information processing and optical computing, said Podolskiy. “Unfortunately, this nonlinear process is extremely inefficient, and suitable materials for promoting the photon interaction are very rare,” he said.

The team was able to show that reshaping of electromagnetic fields in metamaterials with plasmonic components could be used to transform second-harmonic generation (SHG) from a surface-dominated to volume-dominated regime and to engineer a strong tunable bulk nonlinear response in plasmonic composites. The researchers demonstrated tunable SHG from plasmonic nanorod metamaterials; developed a theoretical description of the observed phenomena; and showed that the nonlinear response could be engineered by changing structural parameters of the composite material.

The work demonstrates the emergence of a structurally tunable nonlinear optical response in plasmonic composites and presents a new nonlinear optical platform that could be suitable for integrated nonlinear photonics. This technology could someday enable on-chip optical communication in computer processors, leading to smaller, faster, cheaper, more efficient chips with wider bandwidth and better data storage.

The research was published in Optica, a publication of The Optical Society ( 

Published: January 2019
nonlinear optics
Nonlinear optics is a branch of optics that studies the optical phenomena that occur when intense light interacts with a material and induces nonlinear responses. In contrast to linear optics, where the response of a material is directly proportional to the intensity of the incident light, nonlinear optics involves optical effects that are not linearly dependent on the input light intensity. These nonlinear effects become significant at high light intensities, such as those produced by...
optical communications
The transmission and reception of information by optical devices and sensors.
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.
integrated photonics
Integrated photonics is a field of study and technology that involves the integration of optical components, such as lasers, modulators, detectors, and waveguides, on a single chip or substrate. The goal of integrated photonics is to miniaturize and consolidate optical elements in a manner similar to the integration of electronic components on a microchip in traditional integrated circuits. Key aspects of integrated photonics include: Miniaturization: Integrated photonics aims to...
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