Nav: Home

Guiding light: Sandia creates 3-D metasurfaces with optical possibilities

March 09, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Metamaterials don't exist in nature, but their ability to make ultra-thin lenses and ultra-efficient cell phone antennas, bend light to keep satellites cooler and let photovoltaics absorb more energy mean they offer a world of possibilities.

Formed by nanostructures that act as "atoms," arranged on a substrate to alter light's path in ways no ordinary material can achieve, these surrogate substances can manipulate an incoming light beam to enable the creation of more efficient versions of ubiquitous, valuable devices -- optical filters, lasers, frequency converters and devices that steer beams, for example.

But extensive commercial use of metamaterials has been restrained by the limitations imposed by the materials comprising them. Metal-based metamaterials are "lossy" (lose energy) at shorter wavelengths and can operate effectively only at low frequencies, such as the radio frequencies used by radar, before being overwhelmed by their own absorption. Silicon doesn't emit light and can transmit it only in a limited wavelength range because of its narrow working range (bandgap). So neither class of material can create a metamaterial that will operate in the infrared and optical ranges, where most military and commercial applications would take place.

Optical metamaterials enter the arena

Sandia National Laboratories researchers are helping lead the way to the use of III-V semiconductors as the building blocks of metamaterials. (III-V refers to elements in those columns in the periodic table.) Sandia researchers have published technical papers, including three in the past year, on work featuring materials like gallium-arsenide and aluminum-arsenide, which are more efficient than metals for optical metamaterial applications, with wider bandgap ranges than silicon. The work is promising enough to have been featured on the covers of two technical journals.

"There is very little work worldwide on all-dielectric metamaterials using III-V semiconductors," said Sandia researcher Igal Brener, who leads the Sandia work with researchers Mike Sinclair and Sheng Liu. "Our advantage is Sandia's vast access to III-V technology, both in growth and processing, so we can move pretty fast."

Shinier than gold

The new Sandia dielectric materials -- a kind of electrical insulator -- offer more than just efficiency. They lose little incoming energy and can even be fabricated in multiple layers to form complex, three-dimensional meta-atoms that reflect more light than shiny gold surfaces, usually considered the ultimate in infrared reflectivity. The III-V materials also emit photons when excited -- something that silicon, which can reflect, transmit and absorb -- can't do.

Another advantage is their highly variable outputs, across the color spectrum so they might be used to extend the wavelength range of lasers or for generating "entangled photons" for quantum computing.

Sandia's approach also is attractive for its relatively simple method of forming the artificial atoms, known as resonators, that are the guts of the metamaterial.

Created under the supervision of Liu, the meta-atoms are a few hundred nanometers in diameter and made of many actual atoms. One of Liu's improvements was to oxidize these tiny groupings around their perimeters to create layered coatings with a low index of refraction, rather than use a more expensive, time-consuming "flip-chip" bonding process. The complexity of previous methods was an obstacle to cost- and time-efficiency. Other Sandia researchers had used a variant of his simplification previously to make lasers, but not metamaterials, he said.

The oxidized, low-index surface surrounds the high-index core "like in wintertime, you have a coat surrounding you," Liu said. "To confine light, you need a high refractive-index contrast." Put another way, interior light bumping into the low-indexed oxide surface is herded back by the refractive difference so it travels along the high-index core.

Liu's Sandia colleague Gordon Keeler achieved controlled oxidation simply by putting III-V materials in a hot oven and flowing water vapor over the sample. "It will oxidize at a certain rate," Liu says. "The more material, the longer it takes."

The man-made meta-atoms are sculpted in place during a lithographic process that permits researchers to make any pattern they chose for the placement of the metamaterial components. "We use simulations to direct us," Liu said. Spacing is determined to some extent by the size of the manmade atoms.

Fractured cubic nanostructures store unusually large amounts of energy

The researchers experimented with cylindrical and cubic nanostructures, reducing the symmetry of the latter to achieve even better properties.

"Cylinders are much easier to fabricate and typically can be used for conventional metasurfaces," said Brener. "But broken-symmetry cubes are crucial to obtain very sharp resonances. That's the key issue of the paper."

The idea of intentionally reducing the symmetry of a cubic resonator nanostructure originated five or six years ago, said Sinclair, with a serendipitous design that happened to break the intentionally symmetrical shape of the meta-atoms when the team tried to mimic a particular manufacturing flaw.

"During a Laboratory Directed Research and Development [LDRD] Metamaterials Grand Challenge, when we were first fabricating cubic resonators in our effort to see if we could get beyond microwaves into infrared and optical metamaterials, we were playing with the shape of resonators to try to simulate the effect of lithography errors. In one simulation, we happened to cut a corner of the cube and all of a sudden very sharp reflection bands appeared," Sinclair said.

Prior to that discovery, dielectric resonator metamaterials only showed broad bands that didn't trap much energy. The researchers found the new sharp resonances allowed greater energy storage -- beneficial for efficient frequency conversion, and perhaps even for light emission and lasing.

Exploration of the crimped resonator had to wait for a later project, sponsored by the Department of Energy's Office of Science. Salvatore Campione, building on previous work by Lorena Basilio, Larry Warne and William Langston -- all of Sandia -- used electromagnetic simulations to unravel precisely how the cubes trap light. Sandia's Willie Luk measured the cubes' reflective properties. Another LDRD grant currently supports research into metamaterial lasing.

"We feel we've created a pretty flexible platform for a lot of different kinds of devices," Sinclair said.

The ongoing work is aided by Sandia's John Reno, nationally known for growing extremely precise crystalline structures, who contributed the III-V wafers.

Three patents on aspects of the work have been submitted.
A large part of the work took place at the Sandia/Los Alamos Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies, a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

Three papers of interest led by Sandia researchers:

* Nanoletters, Resonantly Enhanced Second-Harmonic Generation Using III?V Semiconductor All-Dielectric Metasurfaces

* Advanced Optical Materials, Dielectric Resonators: III-V Semiconductor Nanoresonators--A New Strategy for Passive, Active, and Nonlinear All-Dielectric Metamaterials

* ACS Photonics, Broken Symmetry Dielectric Resonators for High Quality Factor Fano Metasurfaces

DOE/Sandia National Laboratories

Related Metamaterials Articles:

Virtualized metamaterials opens door for acoustics application and beyond
Scientists from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have realized what they called a virtualized acoustic metamaterial, in digitizing material response to an impulse response stored in a software program.
In acoustic waves, engineers break reciprocity with 'spacetime-varying metamaterials'
Working in an emerging field known to as 'spacetime-varying metamaterials,' University at Buffalo engineers have demonstrated the ability to break reciprocity in acoustic waves.
Induced flaws in metamaterials can produce useful textures and behavior
A new Tel Aviv University study shows how induced defects in metamaterials -- artificial materials the properties of which are different from those in nature -- also produce radically different consistencies and behaviors.
Researchers use metamaterials to create two-part optical security features
Researchers have developed advanced optical security features that use a two-piece metamaterial system to create a difficult-to-replicate optical phenomenon.
Artificial intelligence (AI) designs metamaterials used in the invisibility cloak
The research group of Prof. Junsuk Rho, Sunae So and Jungho Mun of Department of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Chemical Engineering at POSTECH developed a design with a higher degree of freedom which allows to choose materials and to design photonic structures arbitrarily by using Deep Learning.
Scientists take a 'metamaterials' approach to earthquake damage
At the SSA 2019 Annual Meeting, seismologists from around the world will discuss how metamaterial theory might be applied to everything from developing deflective barriers to manipulating the layout of buildings within a city as a way to minimize the impact of damaging surface seismic waves.
Fast and selective optical heating for functional nanomagnetic metamaterials
In a recent article published in Nanoscale, researchers from the Nanomagnetism group at nanoGUNE demonstrate the use of hybrid magnetic-plasmonic elements to facilitate contactless and selective temperature control in magnetic functional metamaterials.
Researchers 3D print metamaterials with novel optical properties
A team of engineers has developed a series of 3D printed metamaterials with unique microwave or optical properties that go beyond what is possible using conventional optical or electronic materials.
Intelligent metamaterials behave like electrostatic chameleons
Chinese physicists have developed so-called metashells made of smart, adaptable metamaterials.
Hyperbolic metamaterials enable nanoscale 'fingerprinting'
Hyperbolic metamaterials are artificially made structures that can be formed by depositing alternating thin layers of a conductor such as silver or graphene onto a substrate.
More Metamaterials News and Metamaterials Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 3: Shared Immunity
More than a million people have caught Covid-19, and tens of thousands have died. But thousands more have survived and recovered. A week or so ago (aka, what feels like ten years in corona time) producer Molly Webster learned that many of those survivors possess a kind of superpower: antibodies trained to fight the virus. Not only that, they might be able to pass this power on to the people who are sick with corona, and still in the fight. Today we have the story of an experimental treatment that's popping up all over the country: convalescent plasma transfusion, a century-old procedure that some say may become one of our best weapons against this devastating, new disease.   If you have recovered from Covid-19 and want to donate plasma, national and local donation registries are gearing up to collect blood.  To sign up with the American Red Cross, a national organization that works in local communities, head here.  To find out more about the The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which we spoke about in our episode, including information on clinical trials or plasma donation projects in your community, go here.  And if you are in the greater New York City area, and want to donate convalescent plasma, head over to the New York Blood Center to sign up. Or, register with specific NYC hospitals here.   If you are sick with Covid-19, and are interested in participating in a clinical trial, or are looking for a plasma donor match, check in with your local hospital, university, or blood center for more; you can also find more information on trials at The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. And lastly, Tatiana Prowell's tweet that tipped us off is here. This episode was reported by Molly Webster and produced by Pat Walters. Special thanks to Drs. Evan Bloch and Tim Byun, as well as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Support Radiolab today at