An ultra-fast and ultra-small optical switch has been invented that could advance the day when photons replace electrons in the innards of consumer products ranging from cell phones to automobiles.
The new optical device can turn on and off trillions of times per second. It consists of individual switches that are only one five-hundredths the width of a human hair (200 nanometers) in diameter. This size is much smaller than the current generation of optical switches and it easily breaks one of the major technical barriers to the spread of electronic devices that detect and control light: miniaturizing the size of ultrafast optical switches.
The new device was developed by a team of scientists from Vanderbilt University, University of Alabama-Birmingham, and Los Alamos National Laboratory and is described in the Mar. 12 issue of the journal Nano Letters.
The ultrafast switch is made out of an artificial material engineered to have properties that are not found in nature. In this case, the “metamaterial” consists of nanoscale particles of vanadium dioxide (VO2) – a crystalline solid that can rapidly switch back and forth between an opaque, metallic phase and a transparent, semiconducting phase – which are deposited on a glass substrate and coated with a “nanomesh” of tiny gold nanoparticles.
The scientists report that bathing these gilded nanoparticles with brief pulses from an ultrafast laser generates hot electrons in the gold nanomesh that jump into the vanadium dioxide and cause it to undergo its phase change in a few trillionths of a second.
“We had previously triggered this transition in vanadium dioxide nanoparticles directly with lasers and we wanted to see if we could do it with electrons as well,” said Richard Haglund, Stevenson Professor of Physics at Vanderbilt, who led the study. “Not only does it work, but the injection of hot electrons from the gold nanoparticles also triggers the transformation with one fifth to one tenth as much energy input required by shining the laser directly on the bare VO2.”
Both industry and government are investing heavily in efforts to integrate optics and electronics, because it is generally considered to be the next step in the evolution of information and communications technology. Intel, Hewlett-Packard and IBM have been building chips with increasing optical functionality for the last five years that operate at gigahertz speeds, one thousandth that of the VO2 switch.
“Vanadium dioxide switches have a number of characteristics that make them ideal for optoelectronics applications,” said Haglund. In addition to their fast speed and small size, they:
“Vanadium dioxide’s amazing properties have been known for more than half a century. At Vanderbilt, we have been studying VO2 nanoparticles for the last ten years, but the material has been remarkably successfully at resisting theoretical explanations,” said Haglund. “It is only in the last few years that intensive computational studies have illuminated the physics that underlies its semiconductor-to-metal transition.”
Vanderbilt graduate students Kannatassen Appavoo and Joyeeta Nag fabricated the metamaterial at Vanderbilt; Appavoo joined forces with University of Alabama, Birmingham graduate student Nathaniel Brady and Professor David Hilton to carry out the ultrafast laser experiments with the guidance of Los Alamos National Laboratory staff scientist Rohit Prasankumar and postdoctoral scholar Minah Seo. The theoretical and computational studies that helped to unravel the complex mechanism of the phase transition at the nanoscale were carried out by postdoctoral student Bin Wang and Sokrates Pantelides, University Distinguished Professor of Physics and Engineering at Vanderbilt.
The university researchers were supported by Defense Threat-Reduction Agency grant HDTRA1-0047, U.S. Department of Energy grant DE-FG02-01ER45916, U.S. Department of Education GAANN Fellowship P200A090143 and National Science Foundation grant DMR-1207241. Portions of the research were performed at the Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in facilities renovated with NSF grant ARI-R2 DMR-0963361, at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Los Alamos National Laboratory under USDOE contract DE-AC52-06NA25396) and at Sandia National Laboratories under USDOE contract DE-AC04-94AL85000).
Visit Research News @ Vanderbilt for more research news from Vanderbilt. [Media Note: Vanderbilt has a 24/7 TV and radio studio with a dedicated fiber optic line and ISDN line. Use of the TV studio with Vanderbilt experts is free, except for reserving fiber time.]
David F. Salisbury | Vanderbilt University
Barely scratching the surface: A new way to make robust membranes
13.12.2018 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
Topological material switched off and on for the first time
11.12.2018 | ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
14.12.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy