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Nanotechnology Spotlight

Behind the buzz and beyond the hype:
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Showing Spotlights 17 - 24 of 77 in category Nano-optics, -Photonics (newest first):

 

Nanoscale optical force sensor made with living probes

diatomOptical tweezers offer researchers the chance to perform precise force sensing in a fluid environment. This could help to give clarity to some of the picoNewton forces that govern fundamental processes in the cell. However, currently the use of tweezers to probe biological, samples requires either direct irradiation with a laser, or the use of a tool or proxy to exert or sense very small forces. There are many instances when exposing samples to high intensity laser light is less than ideal - typically this is within a biological context. Researchers have now have shown that optical tweezers can be combined with naturally derived algae to create a stable nanoscale optical force sensor. This may enable other groups to utilize this technique to probe key force interactions that occur at the lowest end of the nanoscale force regime.

Posted: Nov 15th, 2012

Stacked nanoparticle layers shine new light on optical thin films

nanoparticle_layersThe refractive index is the property of a material that changes the speed of light and describes how light propagates through the material. The refractive index is an important property of solar cells - the higher it is, the more incident light gets reflected and is not converted to a photocurrent. Solar cell manufacturers have developed various kinds of antireflection coatings to reduce the unwanted reflective losses. The purpose of these optical thin-films is to minimize the differences in the refractive indices between the ambient medium and the solar cells. For both solar cells and LEDs, coating with nanoparticles can enhance the performance without harming the electrical properties of the devices, as can occur with etching or lithographic processing. In new work, researchers have now have not only demonstrated this advantageous feature but also provided a strategy for optimizing the types and sizes of nanoparticles for use in both solar cells and LEDs.

Posted: Nov 5th, 2012

Towards smart plasmonics

plasmonicsBy exploiting the outstanding properties of self-organizing materials, a team of Italian scientists has investigated a new way to build a bridge between two branches of physics: 'hard matter' and 'soft matter'. This allows researchers to address specific issues towards the realization of active-plasmonics devices, where the plasmonic resonance of gold nanoparticles can be finely controlled by means of external perturbations (electrical field, optical field, temperature). In place of a static approach - e.g. varying particles size, materials, etc. - the researchers used liquid crystals as active surrounding medium. This approach represents a 'scientific wedding' between the fascinating worlds of soft matter and plasmonics worlds.

Posted: Oct 22nd, 2012

Invisible security feature with nanotechnology QR codes

QR_codeQuick Response Codes, or QR codes for short, are two-dimensional matrix codes that can hold 100 times more data than a traditional barcode. QR codes have rapidly gained popularity and are now very commonly used in various products, because of fast readability and large storage capacity. Applying the concept of QR codes to security printing applications - think banknotes - researchers have now developed an invisible QR code made from nanoparticles. They applied upconverting inks to print QR codes on paper and transparent tape, using an aerosol jet direct writing machine. They produced QR codes with embedded security characters using blue and green upconverting inks. These codes are invisible to the naked eye but produce single- and multi-color upconversion luminescence images under near-infrared excitation which can be read and decoded with an unmodified smart phone.

Posted: Oct 8th, 2012

Researchers fabricate a virus-sized laser

bowtie_plasmonic_structuresReducing the size of photonic and electronic elements is critical for ultra-fast data processing and ultra-dense information storage. The miniaturization of a key, workhorse optical instrument - the laser - is no exception. Coherent light sources at the nanometer scale are important not only for exploring phenomena in small dimensions but also for realizing optical devices with sizes that can beat the diffraction limit of light. Researchers at Northwestern University have now found a way to manufacture single laser devices that are the size of a virus particle and that operate at room temperature. They show that subdiffraction nanoresonators based on metallic bowties, when coupled to a gain material, can generate coherent and directional light emission.

Posted: Oct 4th, 2012

The rise of graphene in microwave photonics

graphene_photonicsThe unique energy band structure in graphene allows it to actively respond to photons with ultra-wide spectrum range - from the visible to the infrared - with record strong inter-band transition efficiency. As a consequence, graphene based ultra-fast photonics has been rising fast in various aspects of ultra-fast photonics - an ultra-fast graphene photo-detector with bandwidth exceeding 500 GHz; a broadband graphene optical modulator; a broadband graphene polarizer etc, which all benefit from the material's broadband photonics property. Researchers have now experimentally demonstrated for the first time that graphene, besides its well-known optical saturable absorption, also shows microwave and terahertz saturable absorption. The results lead to the expectation that graphene may show potential applications in microwave photonics.

Posted: Oct 2nd, 2012

Making high-resolution holograms with nanoscale pixels

carbon_nanotube_forestThe size of pixels is one of the key limiting features in the state of the art of holographic displays systems. Holography is a technique that enables a light field to be recorded and later reconstructed when the original light field is no longer present, due to the absence of the original objects. The resolution and field of view in these holographic systems are dictated by the size of the pixel, i.e. the smallest light scattering element. To address the limitations of current holographic systems due to their pixel size, a research team set out to use nanostructures as the smallest possible light-scattering elements for producing holograms. They harnessed the extraordinary conductive and light scattering abilities of nanotubes and patterned an array of carbon nanotubes to produce a high resolution hologram.

Posted: Oct 1st, 2012

A first glimpse inside a photonic crystal

photonic_crystalSmart phones, tablets and other electronic gadgets have become an integral part of our daily life. To maintain the steady development to even faster and smaller devices, it is desirable to replace their slow electrical data interconnects with fast optical connections. Photonic crystals are an ideal tool for such a purpose as they can guide and bend light on a nanometer scale. Surprisingly, researchers have so far been unable to truly probe inside these crystals how the light intensity is distributed - this, however, is a requirement for being able to accurately characterize the local density of electromagnetic states inside the crystal which is the key for controlling the interaction of light with matter. Researchers have now demonstrated a new concept to measure the intensity distribution of light inside photonic crystals. This method, for the first time, allows researchers to map the absolute strength of an electromagnetic field component inside a photonic crystal.

Posted: Sep 25th, 2012