Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


A million times better: Highly non-linear metamaterials for laser technology


Nonlinear optical materials are widely used in laser systems. However, high light intensity and long propagation are required to produce strong nonlinear optical effects.

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and the Technische Universitaet Muenchen created metamaterials with a million times stronger nonlinear optical response, compared to the traditional nonlinear materials, and demonstrated frequency conversion in films 100 times thinner than human hair using light intensity comparable to that of a laser pointer.

The ultra-thin layers of the metamaterial were produced with this molecular beam epitaxy system – Photo: TUM

400 nanometer thick nonlinear mirror that reflects frequency-doubled output using input light intensity as small as that of a laser pointer – Image: University of Texas (Austin)

Lasers have a fixed place in many fields of application. Yet, there are still wavelengths for which either no systems exist, or at best only large and expensive ones. On the other hand remote sensing and medical applications call for compact laser systems, for example with wavelengths from the near infrared to the Terahertz region.

A team of researchers at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (Germany) and the University of Texas Austin (USA) has now developed a 400 nanometer thick nonlinear mirror that reflects frequency-doubled output using input light intensity as small as that of a laser pointer. For a given input intensity and structure thickness, the new nonlinear metamaterials produce approximately one million times higher intensity of frequency-doubled output, compared to the best traditional nonlinear materials.

... more about:
»Air »US »energy »indium »specific »structures »wavelength

Furthermore, because the frequency conversion happens over subwavelength scales, the demonstrated nonlinear mirrors are free from the stringent requirement of matching the phase velocities of the input and output waves, which complicates nonlinear optical experiments with bulk nonlinear crystals.

The new structures can be tailored to work at various frequencies from near-infrared to mid-infrared to terahertz and can be designed to produce giant nonlinear response for different nonlinear optical processes, such as second harmonic, sum- and difference-frequency generation, as well a variety of four-wave mixing processes.

The super sandwich

The magical material the physicists have created comprises a sequence of thin layers made of indium, gallium and arsenic on the one hand and aluminum, indium and arsenic on the other. They stacked about 100 of these layers, each between one and twelve nanometers thick, on top of each other and sandwiched them between a layer of gold at the bottom and a pattern of asymmetrical, crossed gold nanostructures on top

Tuning the semiconductor layers thicknesses and the gold surface nanostructures geometry, the researchers have two possibilities to adjust the structure to resonate optimally with the desired wavelengths. For the initial demonstration, the material converts light with a wavelength of 8000 nanometers to 4000 nanometers. “Laser light in this frequency range can be used in gas sensors for environmental technology,” says Frederic Demmerle, project member at the Walter Schottky Institute of the TU Muenchen.

Smaller than the wavelength

The ability to double the frequency of a beam of light stems from the engineered electron states in the semiconductor material. When the semiconductor layers are only a few nanometers thick, the electrons can only occupy specific energy states and can be resonantly excited by the electromagnetic radiation.

“This kind of structure is called a coupled quantum well,” says Frederic Demmerle. “Now, when we stack a further thin layer at a precisely defined distance from the first layer, we can push these electron states closer together or pull them apart, adjusting them precisely to the desired wavelength.”

Using the semiconductor material grown at TU Muenchen, a team of researchers at the University of Texas, led by Prof. Mikhail Belkin and Prof. Andrea Alu, designed a pattern of crossed gold structures tailored to have resonances at particular input and output frequencies and fabricated then on top of the semiconductor layer. It is this specific combination of semiconductor material and gold nanostructures engineering that produces giant nonlinear response.

Although the patterns are considerably smaller than the wavelength of the incoming light, the metallic structures ensure that the light is optimally coupled to the material. Their special design also causes a strong increase in field strength at specific locations, which further amplifies the nonlinear response.

In the future, the team envisions using new materials realized along these lines for other nonlinear effects. “Alongside frequency doubling, our structures may be designed for sum- or difference-frequency generation,” says graduate student Jongwon Lee, at the University of Texas, the lead author on the paper. “These kinds of elements could be used to produce and detect terahertz radiation – which is of interest for sensing and imaging applications, e.g., in medicine, because it does not harm biological tissue.”

“This work opens a new paradigm in nonlinear optics by exploiting the unique combination of exotic wave interaction in metamaterials and of quantum engineering in semicondcutors.” says Professor Andrea Alu.

“On the applications side, our work unveils a pathway towards the development of ultrathin nonlinear optical elements for efficient frequency conversion that will operate without stringent phase-matching constrains of currently-used bulk nonlinear crystals,” says Professor Mikhail Belkin.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation of USA, the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the US Office of Naval Research, as well as the German Research Foundation in the context of the Excellnce Initiative (Cluster of Excellence Nanosystems Initiative Munich, NIM).


Giant nonlinear response from plasmonic metasurfaces coupled to intersubband transitions
Jongwon Lee, Mykhailo Tymchenko, Christos Argyropoulos, Pai-Yen Chen, Feng Lu, Frederic Demmerle, Gerhard Boehm, Markus-Christian Amann, Andrea Alù, and Mikhail A. Belkin
Nature, 03.07.2014, DOI: 10.1038/nature13455


Prof. Dr. Markus C. Amann
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Walter Schottky Institute
Am Coulombwall 4, 85748 Garching, Germany
Tel.: +49 89 289 12770


Prof. Dr. Markus C. Amann | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: Air US energy indium specific structures wavelength

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1
21.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Hochfrequenzphysik und Radartechnik FHR

nachricht Taming chaos: Calculating probability in complex systems
21.03.2018 | American Institute of Physics

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

TRAPPIST-1 planets provide clues to the nature of habitable worlds

21.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

The search for dark matter widens

21.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Natural enemies reduce pesticide use

21.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>