Synopsis: Nanoweb Catches Light

Experiments show that normally transparent nanorods can absorb or reflect nearly 100% of light at a specific wavelength when the rods are arranged in a periodic two-dimensional array.
Synopsis figure
P. Ghenuche et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. (2012)

A good light-blocking shade doesn’t have any holes. Or so you’d think. Physicists have shown that an open weblike array of nanorods absorbs 25 times more light at a specific wavelength than the same material spread out in a thin sheet. As reported in Physical Review Letters, similar geometric arrangements might inspire new optical filters or optomechanical devices that couple light to mechanical motion.

Nanostructures that interact strongly with light have many potential applications in biology and chemistry. Current research primarily uses metallic nanostructures, such as gold nanoparticles, whose electrons form surface plasmon resonances that strongly absorb or scatter light. But theory suggests that strong light interactions can also be produced by a periodic arrangement of free-standing dielectric nanostructures.

To focus on the effects of geometry, Petru Ghenuche of the Laboratory for Photonics and Nanostructures in Marcoussis, France, and his colleagues chose nominally transparent dielectric nanostructures—specifically silicon nitride nanorods—which don’t individually have any strong interaction with light. The team lined up the 500-nanometer-wide nanorods in rows 3 microns apart. They shined infrared light on this single-layer array from different angles and with various wavelengths and then measured the transmission and reflection. Most of the light passed through the nanorods, but light in a very narrow wavelength band (set by the spacing and angle of incidence) was almost 100% reflected. The nanorod arrangement looks like a very sparse diffraction grating (with the rods covering only 15% of the surface area), but the authors’ theoretical model showed that their nanostructure behaves more like a crystal, where the rods (acting like a monolayer of atoms) scatter light multiple times in between each other. – Michael Schirber


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