Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California (UC) Berkeley have created the first nano-sized light mill motor whose rotational speed and direction can be controlled by tuning the frequency of the incident light waves. It may not help conquer the Dark Side, but this new light mill does open the door to a broad range of valuable applications, including a new generation of nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS), nanoscale solar light harvesters, and bots that can perform in vivo manipulations of DNA and other biological molecules.
“We have demonstrated a plasmonic motor only 100 nanometers in size that when illuminated with linearly polarized light can generate a torque sufficient to drive a micrometre-sized silica disk 4,000 times larger in volume,” says Xiang Zhang, a principal investigator with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and director of UC Berkeley’s Nano-scale Science and Engineering Center (SINAM), who led this research. “In addition to easily being able to control the rotational speed and direction of this motor, we can create coherent arrays of such motors, which results in greater torque and faster rotation of the microdisk.”
The success of this new light mill stems from the fact that the force exerted on matter by light can be enhanced in a metallic nanostructure when the frequencies of the incident light waves are resonant with the metal’s plasmons – surface waves that roll through a metal’s conduction electrons. Zhang and his colleagues fashioned a gammadion-shaped light mill type of nanomotor out of gold that was structurally designed to maximize the interactions between light and matter. The metamaterial-style structure also induced orbital angular momentum on the light that in turn imposed a torque on the nanomotor.
“The planar gammadion gold structures can be viewed as a combination of four small LC-circuits for which the resonant frequencies are determined by the geometry and dielectric properties of the metal,” says Zhang. “The imposed torque results solely from the gammadion structure’s symmetry and interaction with all incident light, including light which doesn’t carry angular momentum. Essentially we use design to encode angular momentum in the structure itself. Since the angular momentum of the light need not be pre-determined, the illuminating source can be a simple linearly polarized plane-wave or Gaussian beam.”
The results of this research are reported in the journal Nature Nanotechnology in a paper titled, “ Light-driven nanoscale plasmonic motors.” Co-authoring the paper with Zhang were Ming Liu, Thomas Zentgraf, Yongmin Liu and Guy Bartal.
It has long been known that the photons in a beam of light carry both linear and angular momentum that can be transferred to a material object. Optical tweezers and traps, for example, are based on the direct transfer of linear momentum. In 1936, Princeton physicist Richard Beth demonstrated that angular momentum – in either its spin or orbital form – when altered by the scattering or absorption of light can produce a mechanical torque on an object. Previous attempts to harness this transfer of angular momentum for a rotary motor have been hampered by the weakness of the interaction between photons and matter.
“The typical motors had to be at least micrometres or even millimeters in size in order to generate a sufficient amount of torque,” says lead author Ming Liu, a PhD student in Zhang’s group. “We’ve shown that in a nanostructure like our gammadion gold light mill, torque is greatly enhanced by the coupling of the incident light to plasmonic waves. The power density of our motors is very high. As a bonus, the rotational direction is controllable, a counterintuitive fact based on what we learn from wind mills.”
The directional change, Liu explains, is made possible by the support of the four-armed gammadion structure for two major resonance modes – a wavelength of 810 nanometers, and a wavelength of 1,700 nanometers. When illuminated with a linearly polarized Gaussian beam of laser light at the shorter wavelength, the plasmonic motor rotated counterclockwise at a rate of 0.3 Hertz. When illuminated with a similar laser beam but at the larger wavelength, the nanomotor rotated at the same rate of speed but in a clockwise direction.
"When multiple motors are integrated into one silica microdisk, the torques applied on the disk from the individual motors accumulate and the overall torque is increased,” Liu says. “For example, a silica disk embedded with four plasmonic nanomotors attains the same rotation speed with only half of the laser power applied as a disk embedded with a single motor.”
The nanoscale size of this new light mill makes it ideal for powering NEMS, where the premium is on size rather than efficiency. Generating relatively powerful torque in a nanosized light mill also has numerous potential biological applications, including the controlled unwinding and rewinding of the DNA double helix. When these light mill motors are structurally optimized for efficiency, they could be useful for harvesting solar energy in nanoscopic systems.
“By designing multiple motors to work at different resonance frequencies and in a single direction, we could acquire torque from the broad range of wavelengths available in sunlight,” Liu says.
This research was supported by DOE’s Office of Science.
Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research for DOE’s Office of Science and is managed by the University of California. Visit our Website at www.lbl.gov/
For more information about the research of Xiang Zhang visit http://xlab.me.berkeley.edu/xlabnews.htm
For more information about the Berkeley Nano-scale Science and Engineering Center visit http://www.sinam.org/
Lynn Yarris | EurekAlert!
Pulses of electrons manipulate nanomagnets and store information
21.07.2017 | American Institute of Physics
Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion
21.07.2017 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences
Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.
For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...
What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.
To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...
The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....
A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...
Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision
Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...
21.07.2017 | Event News
19.07.2017 | Event News
12.07.2017 | Event News
21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences
21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy