Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Rice University lab develops technique to control light from nanoparticles

A nanoscale game of "now you see it, now you don't" may contribute to the creation of metamaterials with useful optical properties that can be actively controlled, according to scientists at Rice University.

A Rice laboratory led by chemist Stephan Link has discovered a way to use liquid crystals to control light scattered from gold nanorods. The researchers use voltage to sensitively manipulate the alignment of liquid crystal molecules that alternately block and reveal light from the particles; the gold nanorods collect and retransmit light in a specific direction.

The research was reported in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters.

It seems simple, but Link said the technique took two years to refine to the point where light from the nanoparticles could be completely controlled.

"The key to our approach is the in-plane rotation of liquid crystal molecules covering individual gold nanorods that act as optical antennas," said Link, an assistant professor of chemistry and electrical and computer engineering. "Learning how our devices work was exciting and has provided us with many ideas of how to manipulate light at the nanoscale."

Link said the device is actually a super half wave plate, a refined version of a standard device that alters the polarization of light.

With the new device, the team expects to be able to control light from any nanostructure that scatters, absorbs or emits light, even quantum dots or carbon nanotubes. "The light only has to be polarized for this to work," said Link, who studies the plasmonic properties of nanoparticles and recently authored a perspective on his group's recent research in plasmonics for the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters. (View a video of Link and his team here.)

In polarized light, like sunlight reflecting off water, the light's waves are aligned in a particular plane. By changing the direction of their alignment, liquid crystals can tunably block or filter light.

The Rice team used gold nanorods as their polarized light source. The rods act as optical antennas; when illuminated, their surface plasmons re-emit light in a specific direction.

In their experiment, the team placed randomly deposited nanorods in an array of alternating electrodes on a glass slide; they added a liquid crystal bath and a cover slip. A polyimide coating on the top cover slip forced the liquid crystals to orient themselves parallel with the electrodes.

Liquid crystals in this homogenous phase blocked light from nanorods turned one way, while letting light from nanorods pointed another way pass through a polarizer to the detector.

What happened then was remarkable. When the team applied as little as four volts to the electrodes, liquid crystals floating in the vicinity of the nanorods aligned themselves with the electric field between the electrodes while crystals above the electrodes, still under the influence of the cover slip coating, stayed put.

The new configuration of the crystals -- called a twisted nematic phase -- acted like a shutter that switched the nanorods' signals like a traffic light.

"We don't think this effect depends on the gold nanorods," Link said. "We could have other nano objects that react with light in a polarized way, and then we could modulate their intensity. It becomes a tunable polarizer."

Critical to the experiment's success was the gap – in the neighborhood of 14 microns -- between the top of the electrodes and the bottom of the cover slip. "The thickness of this gap determines the amount of rotation," Link said. "Because we created the twisted nematic in-plane and have a certain thickness, we always get 90-degree rotation. That's what makes it a super half wave plate."

Link sees great potential for the technique when used with an array of nanoparticles oriented in specific directions, in which each particle would be completely controllable, like a switch.

Co-authors of the paper are Rice graduate students Saumyakanti Khatua, Pattanawit Swanglap and Jana Olson and postdoctoral research associate Wei-Shun Chang, all of Link's lab.

The research was funded by the Robert A. Welch Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund and a 3M Nontenured Faculty Grant.

Read the abstract at

See a video that demonstrates the effect at

Download images at
(Link group)
Rice University researchers have created a technique to control plasmonic scattering from nanoparticles using liquid crystals. Clockwise from top left are Saumyakanti Khatua, Jana Olson, Wei-Shun Chang, Pattanawit Swanglap and Professor Stephan Link.

(Credit Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

(twisted nematic)

Applied voltage creates a nematic twist in liquid crystals (blue) around a nanorod (red) between two electrodes in an experiment at Rice University. This graphic shows liquid crystals in their homogenous phase (left) and twisted nematic phase (right). Depending on the orientation of the nanorods, the liquid crystals will either reveal or mask light when voltage is applied.

(Credit Link Lab/Rice University)

(nanoparticle images)

Polarized dark field scattering images of single gold nanorods in electrode gaps show them either turned on or off depending on voltage applied to a swarm of liquid crystals. The arrows indicate the polarization of detected light, either parallel (purple) or perpendicular (green) to the electrode array.

(Credit Link Lab/Rice University)

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation's top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is known for its "unconventional wisdom." With 3,485 undergraduates and 2,275 graduate students, Rice's undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is less than 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice has been ranked No. 1 for best quality of life multiple times by the Princeton Review and No. 4 for "best value" among private universities by Kiplinger's Personal Finance. To read "What they're saying about Rice," go to

David Ruth | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA
27.10.2016 | University of Oklahoma

nachricht First results of NSTX-U research operations
26.10.2016 | DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

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: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

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...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

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...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

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...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

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...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

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...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>