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Taming light with graphene
Date:6/20/2012

Spanish research groups achieve first ever visualizations of light guided with nanometric precision on graphene (a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms). This visualization proves what theoretical physicists have long predicted; that it is possible to trap and manipulate light in a highly efficient way, using graphene as a novel platform for optical information processing and sensing. Synergies between theoretical proposals from IQFR-CSIC (Madrid), specializations in graphene nano-photonics and nano-optoelectonics at ICFO (Barcelona), and experimental expertise in optical nano-imaging at nanoGUNE (San Sebastian) give rise to these noteworthy results reported in Nature this week in a back-to-back publication alongside a similar study by the group of Dmitry Basov in UCSD in California.

Graphene is a material that, among many other fascinating properties, has an extraordinary optical behavior. Particularly interesting optical properties had been predicted for the case that light couples to so-called plasmons, wave-like excitations that were predicted to exist in the "sea" of conduction electrons of graphene. However, no direct experimental evidence of plasmons in graphene had been shown up to this work. This is because the wavelength of graphene plasmons is 10 to 100 times smaller than what can be seen with conventional light microscopes. Now, the researchers show the first experimental images of graphene plasmons. They used a so called near-field microscope that uses a sharp tip to convert the illumination light into a nanoscale light spot that provides the extra push needed for the plasmons to be created. At the same time the tip probes the presence of plasmons (see figure). Rainer Hillenbrand, leader of the nanoGUNE group comments: "Seeing is believing! Our near-field optical images definitely proof the existence of propagating and localized graphene plasmons and allow for a direct measurement of their dramatically reduced wavelength."


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