WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. New optical technologies using "metasurfaces" capable of the ultra-efficient control of light are nearing commercialization, with potential applications including advanced solar cells, computers, telecommunications, sensors and microscopes.
The metasurfaces could make possible "planar photonics" devices and optical switches small enough to be integrated into computer chips for information processing and telecommunications, said Alexader Kildishev, associate research professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University.
"I think we know enough at this point that we can realistically start to develop prototypes of devices for some applications," he said.
The promise of metasurfaces is described in an article appearing Friday (March 15) in the journal Science. The article was co-authored by Kildishev; Alexandra Boltasseva, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Vladimir M. Shalaev, scientific director of nanophotonics at Purdue's Birck Nanotechnology Center and a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering.
The metasurfaces are extremely thin films of "metamaterials," assemblies that contain features, patterns or elements such as tiny antennas or alternating layers of oxides that enable an unprecedented control of light. Under development for about 15 years, the metamaterials owe their unusual potential to precision design on the scale of nanometers.
Optical nanophotonic circuits might harness clouds of electrons called "surface plasmons" to manipulate and control the routing of light in devices too tiny for conventional lasers.
The metasurfaces are typically created using electron-beam lithography or focused ion beam milling and may also be made of materials that are compatible with existing semiconductor manufacturing and industrial processes.
"That is one of the attractive features of metasurfaces," Kildishev said. "If we use certain type
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