Laser the size of a virus particle operates at room temperature, defies the diffraction limit of light

November 5, 2012, Northwestern University

A Northwestern University research team has found a way to manufacture single laser devices that are the size of a virus particle and that operate at room temperature. These plasmonic nanolasers could be readily integrated into silicon-based photonic devices, all-optical circuits and nanoscale biosensors.

Reducing the size of photonic and electronic elements is critical for ultra-fast data processing and ultra-dense information storage. The miniaturization of a key, workhorse instrument—the laser—is no exception.

The results are published in the journal .

"Coherent light sources at the nanometer scale are important not only for exploring phenomena in small dimensions but also for realizing optical devices with sizes that can beat the of light," said Teri Odom, a nanotechnology expert who led the research.

Odom is the Board of Lady Managers of the Columbian Exposition Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

"The reason we can fabricate nano-lasers with sizes smaller than that allowed by diffraction is because we made the lasing cavity out of metal nanoparticle dimers—structures with a 3-D 'bowtie' shape," Odom said.

These metal nanostructures support localized —collective oscillations of electrons—that have no fundamental size limits when it comes to confining light.

The use of the bowtie geometry has two significant benefits over previous work on plasmon lasers: (1) the bowtie structure provides a well-defined, electromagnetic hot spot in a nano-sized volume because of an antenna effect, and (2) the individual structure has only minimal metal "losses" because of its discrete geometry.

"Surprisingly, we also found that when arranged in an array, the 3-D bowtie resonators could emit light at specific angles according to the lattice parameters," Odom said.

Explore further: Periodic structures in organic light-emitters can efficiently enhance, replenish surface plasmon waves

More information: The Nano Letters paper, titled "Plasmonic Bowtie Nanolaser Arrays," is available at

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4.5 / 5 (2) Nov 06, 2012
Imagine viruses with frickin lasers attached to their heads! Straight out of Dr Evil's lair innit..
not rated yet Nov 06, 2012
Very impressive and interesting work! Could definately see this being extended using self-assembly of such dimer structures on a large-scale.

One thing,
metal nanostructures ... have no fundamental size limits when it comes to confining light..

I believe there is a fundamental limit on the confinement of light between two nanostructures due to non-local effects. For example quantum tunneling of electrons between the nanostructures, driven at optical frequencies, could expel the light from the inter-nanoparticle gap.
1 / 5 (1) Nov 06, 2012
My old girlfriend used to lase IR at me now and then, strangely congruent with the phases of the moon...

One wonders if any sort of lasing effect has happened before as part of natures permutations, its possible effect(s) and how it might have been recognised if not visible.

The carbon permutation space is estimated to be 10^60, from a basic guess we are nowhere near a very small fraction of that, synthetic biology with advanced computing may well move that up a huge tiny minuscule amount :o)
not rated yet Nov 12, 2012
can we build mega scale projectors for movie theaters?
1 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2012
It would be somewhat interesting if these virus particles were in the skin and upon command the whole body glows by lasing in all directions, I reckon thats a heck of a way to entertain with a bright idea :-)

Blimey you could put them anywhere, from the anus to the ear canal to the eye and in each case with massive potentials for entertainment and black comedy !
not rated yet Nov 17, 2012
would these help in creating a true holographic display?
1 / 5 (1) Nov 18, 2012
jibbles needs to clarify his terms
would these help in creating a true holographic display?
We already have 'true' holographic displays static holographic film has been around for decades.

We dont have 'true' 3D displays. ie They only have one extra frame so the mind is required to fill in the blanks.

For a 'true' 3D display you need a MUCH larger amount of information, if you dont want to rely on the mind filling in blanks, then you need to supply multiple frames, one for each increment of motion or relative positional information. Perhaps 100 to 500 times depending on where you sit and what area is supposed to be covered when you move around and whether there is any point - do we want more armchair watchers or doers ?

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