Take gold spirals about the size of a dime...and shrink them down about six million times. The result is the world’s smallest continuous spirals: “nano-spirals” with unique optical properties that would be almost impossible to counterfeit if they were added to identity cards, currency and other important objects.
Students and faculty at Vanderbilt University fabricated these tiny Archimedes’ spirals and then used ultrafast lasers at Vanderbilt and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington to characterize their optical properties. The results are reported in a paper published online by the Journal of Nanophotonics on May 21.
“They are certainly smaller than any of the spirals we’ve found reported in the scientific literature,” said Roderick Davidson II, the Vanderbilt doctoral student who figured out how to study their optical behavior. The spirals were designed and made at Vanderbilt by another doctoral student, Jed Ziegler, now at the Naval Research Laboratory.
Most other investigators who have studied the remarkable properties of microscopic spirals have done so by arranging discrete nanoparticles in a spiral pattern: similar to spirals drawn with a series of dots of ink on a piece of paper. By contrast, the new nano-spirals have solid arms and are much smaller: A square array with 100 nano-spirals on a side is less than a hundredth of a millimeter wide.
When these spirals are shrunk to sizes smaller than the wavelength of visible light, they develop unusual optical properties. For example, when they are illuminated with infrared laser light, they emit visible blue light. A number of crystals produce this effect, called frequency doubling or harmonic generation, to various degrees. The strongest frequency doubler previously known is the synthetic crystal beta barium borate, but the nano-spirals produce four times more blue light per unit volume.
When infrared laser light strikes the tiny spirals, it is absorbed by electrons in the gold arms. The arms are so thin that the electrons are forced to move along the spiral. Electrons that are driven toward the center absorb enough energy so that some of them emit blue light at double the frequency of the incoming infrared light.
“This is similar to what happens with a violin string when it is bowed vigorously,” said Stevenson Professor of Physics Richard Haglund, who directed the research. “If you bow a violin string very lightly it produces a single tone. But, if you bow it vigorously, it also begins producing higher harmonics, or overtones. The electrons at the center of the spirals are driven pretty vigorously by the laser’s electric field. The blue light is exactly an octave higher than the infrared – the second harmonic.”
The nano-spirals also have a distinctive response to polarized laser light. Linearly polarized light, like that produced by a Polaroid filter, vibrates in a single plane. When struck by such a light beam, the amount of blue light the nano-spirals emit varies as the angle of the plane of polarization is rotated through 360 degrees.
The effect is even more dramatic when circularly polarized laser light is used. In circularly polarized light, the polarization plane rotates either clockwise or counterclockwise. When left-handed nano-spirals are illuminated with clockwise polarized light, the amount of blue light produced is maximized because the polarization pushes the electrons toward the center of the spiral. Counterclockwise polarized light, on the other hand, produces a minimal amount of blue light because the polarization tends to push the electrons outward so that the waves from all around the nano-spiral interfere destructively.
The combination of the unique characteristics of their frequency doubling and response to polarized light provide the nano-spirals with a unique, customizable signature that would be extremely difficult to counterfeit, the researchers said.
So far, Davidson has experimented with small arrays of gold nano-spirals on a glass substrate made using scanning electron-beam lithography. Silver and platinum nano-spirals could be made in the same way. Because of the tiny quantities of metal actually used, they can be made inexpensively out of precious metals, which resist chemical degradation. They can also be made on plastic, paper and a number of other substrates.
“If nano-spirals were embedded in a credit card or identification card, they could be detected by a device comparable to a barcode reader,” said Haglund.
The frequency doubling effect is strong enough so that arrays that are too small to see with the naked eye can be detected easily. That means they could be placed in a secret location on a card, which would provide an additional barrier to counterfeiters.
The researchers also argue that coded nano-spiral arrays could be encapsulated and placed in explosives, chemicals and drugs – any substance that someone wants to track closely – and then detected using an optical readout device.
Additional contributors to the study include graduate student Guillermo Vargas and Research Assistant Professor Sergey Avanesyan from Vanderbilt and scientific staff members Yu Gong and Wayne Hess at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
The research was supported by Department of Energy Office of Science grant DE-FG02-01ER45917 and National Science Foundation grants HP-1058571 and ARI-R2 DMR-0963361.
Visit Research News @ Vanderbilt for more research news from Vanderbilt.
David F. Salisbury | Vanderbilt University
Fraunhofer FIT joins Facebook's Telecom Infra Project
25.10.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions
21.10.2016 | Stanford University
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
25.10.2016 | Process Engineering