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'Metasurfaces' Enable Advanced Solar Cells, Chemical Sensors

New optical technologies using "metasurfaces" are nearing commercialization, with potential applications including advanced solar cells, computers, telecommunications, sensors, and microscopes.
The metasurfaces could make possible "planar photonics" devices and optical switches small enough to be integrated into computer chips for information processing and telecommunications, said Alexander Kildishev, associate research professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University.

The metasurfaces are extremely thin films of "metamaterials," assemblies that contain features, patterns, or elements such as tiny antennas or alternating layers of oxides that enable an unprecedented control of light. Under development for about 15 years, the metamaterials owe their unusual potential to precision design on the scale of nanometers.

Optical nanophotonic circuits harness clouds of electrons called "surface plasmons" to manipulate and control the routing of light in devices too tiny for conventional lasers.

Plasmonic metamaterials are promising for various advances, including a possible "hyperlens" that could make optical microscopes 10 times more powerful; advanced chemical sensors; new types of light-harvesting systems for more efficient solar cells; computers and consumer electronics that use light instead of electronic signals to process information; and a cloak of invisibility.

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Also: Learn about new plasmon laser capabilities.