Conventional probing methods for localized surface properties often rely on ultra-high vacuum conditions. Consequently, approaches such as scanning tunneling microscopy have difficulties to resolve surface changes under realistic reaction conditions. Tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy can investigate arbitrary substrates and more diverse reaction environments but suffers from weak Raman scattering signals. Also, the fabrication of robust, reproducible, and highly enhancing tips is still challenging. Researchers have now presented a novel platform for the optical detection of localized chemical reactions on surfaces that can help overcome these difficulties by offering a sensitive, reliable, and easy-to-implement technique to probe local chemical reactions while they occur under diverse environmental conditions.
So-called shape memory polymers have the ability to reassume their original shape following temporary deformation. This function can be activated by means of external stimuli such as temperature change, light, or magnetic fields. Researchers have now shown that they can mold shape memory polymers into shapes relevant for micro-optics, and that they can exploit shape memory effects in this context to develop new kinds of programmable optical components. They demonstrate a series of deformable, shape-memorizing micro-optics using a shape memory elastomer.
A key benefit of nanoimprint lithography is its sheer simplicity. There is no need for complex optics or high-energy radiation sources with a nanoimprint tool. Especially the nanopatterning of high refractive index optical films promises the development of novel photonic nanodevices such as planar waveguide circuits, nano-lasers, solar cells and antireflective coatings. Researchers have now developed a robust route for high-throughput, high-performance nanophotonics based direct imprint of high refractive index, low visible wavelength absorption materials.
Optical 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.
The 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.
By 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.
Quick 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.
Reducing 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.