Researchers confine light to crystal surface, design transparent display using nanoparticles

August 25, 2014 by Denis Paiste, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Chia Wei (Wade) Hsu Credit: Courtesy of the Materials Processing Center

Light is a slippery fellow. Stand in a darkened hallway and close a door to a lighted room: Light will sneak through any cracks—it doesn't want to be confined. "Typically, in free space, light will go everywhere," graduate student Chia Wei (Wade) Hsu says. "If you want to confine light, you usually need some special mechanism."

Last summer, Hsu demonstrated a new way to confine light on the surface of a slab. "We were the first ones to experimentally demonstrate this new way to confine light," says Hsu, a graduate student in physics who is conducting research under Marin Soljacic, a professor of physics as MIT.

The photonic crystal is a thin slab whose has a periodicity, or repeating pattern, that is comparable in size to the wavelength of light—extremely short distances measured in nanometers (billionths of a meter). "Light can interact with the structure in a non-trivial way. Typically one observes modes called 'guided resonance,' where light is semi-confined in the slab but it can radiate outside. It's not perfectly confined; it still leaks out," Hsu explains.

However, at a certain angle (35 degrees in the study), light stays bound to the surface, oscillating indefinitely. Hsu, Soljacic, co-author and MIT graduate student Bo Zhen, and others reported these findings recently in Nature. This phenomenon is called an embedded eigenstate, also known as a "Bound State in the Continuum." The bound state affects just one wavelength of light that reaches the slab. The particular wavelength that is bound is related to the structure of the photonic crystal slab. So for a different structure, the bound state will appear at a different wavelength and wavevector, or angle of propagation. By manipulating the structure, researchers can manipulate the wavelength and the angle of this special state. Separately, Hsu and colleagues detailed their physical and mathematical analysis of the bound state in a theoretical paper in Light: Science and Application.

One way to visualize the bound state effect, Hsu says, is to think of the difference between dropping a stone into a lake—where the waves ripple out without being confined—and using a drum stick to hit a drum membrane—which vibrates back and forth, but does not spread because it's blocked by the boundary of the drum. "Eigenstate or eigenvalue refers to a sustained oscillation," Hsu explains.

Watch how MIT and Harvard University researchers confine light to a crystal slab surface and design a transparent display. Credit: Materials Processing Center

At a particular angle, or wavevector, as light tries to escape, outgoing waves of the same amplitude, but opposite phase, cancel each other—which is known as destructive interference. "All of the outgoing waves are cancelled, so light becomes confined," Hsu says. "There are no outgoing waves anymore and then it becomes perfectly confined in the slab."

Unexpected finding

In 1929, scientists John von Neumann and Eugene Wigner theoretically predicted such a state, known as an embedded eigenvalue. The trapped state is in contrast to what typically happens when light resonates on the surface for a time, but then escapes or decays.

"This bound state was certainly an unexpected discovery. We happened upon it when we were looking for something else," Soljacic explains.

The researchers are looking for a practical use of this finding. "The same mechanism we described about this interference cancellation mechanism can also be applied to a structure that's similar to a fiber, so it may have potential use in optical communication too," Hsu says. Although light does not escape the typical optical fiber because of its total internal reflection, the fiber confines all angles of light above a critical angle. "All the light above some cut off will be confined. In our mechanism, cancellation only happens at one particular angle. Only light at that particular angle is confined, so it has some more selectivity," Hsu explains.

Breakthrough from simplicity

Prior examples of theoretically predicted embedded eigenstates were too complicated to realize. "Here we found a structure that is very simple to realize," Hsu says. Fellow in Soljacic's group, Jeongwon Lee, fabricated the photonic crystal structure, using a structure which the group had already studied.

Lee fabricated the photonic crystal on silicon nitride slab, using interference photolithography to etch the periodic structure or repeating pattern. Hsu and Zhen measured the sample in the lab and analyzed the data to confirm the phenomenon. "In this simple structure, we found this phenomenon of this new type of light confinement. Since the structure is simple, we were able to demonstrate it, which other people were not able to because their systems are more complicated," Hsu explains.

Hsu is working toward a deeper understanding of why this phenomenon occurs where light gets confined, as well as exploring potential applications in photonic crystal lasers. "We are investigating where this new type of light confinement can give rise to different behaviors of lasers," he adds.

Creating transparent displays

Besides his light confinement work, Hsu led the demonstration of a blue transparent display composed of a clear polymer coating with embedded resonant nanoparticles made of silver.

Such displays work because the wavelength of blue light is strongly scattered by interaction with silver. "In this case, we only want to scatter the particular wavelengths of our projector light. We don't want to scatter other wavelengths because we will need it to be transparent," he says.

"We can take a piece of glass which is originally transparent and put in nanoparticles that only scatter a particular, narrow bandwidth of light. Light in the visible spectrum is made of many different wavelengths from 300 nanometers to 750 nanometers. If we have such a structure, then most of the light can pass through, so it is still transparent, but if we project light of that particular narrow bandwidth, light can be scattered strongly as if it were hitting a regular screen," Hsu explains. The results were published in a Nature Communications article, "Transparent displays enabled by resonant nano particle scattering," in January.

Hsu's theoretical design consisted of a nanoparticle with a silica (silicon dioxide) core and a silver shell, but the experiment was done using purely silver particles. "Silver-only is good enough if we want to scatter only ," he says. A very tiny amount of silver, just six-thousandths of a milligram, produced the effect in the demonstration, making it a potential economical approach.

Silver has conducting electrons, and when the particular blue wavelength interacts with them, those conducting electrons will oscillate back and forth strongly. "It's a resonance phenomenon. At that point, you'll get very strong light scattering," Hsu explains. The phenomenon is called a localized surface plasmon resonance.

One advantage of this approach is that the projected image has a broad viewing angle. "Nanoparticle scattering will send light in all different directions, so you will be able to see the image no matter which angle you look at. So it will be useful for applications where you would want people to see it from all different directions," Hsu says.

Hsu received his bachelor's in physics and mathematics at Wesleyan University in 2010. His doctoral thesis will be split between the nanoparticle display work and the confinement of work.

Explore further: New phenomenon could lead to novel types of lasers and sensors

More information: "Observation of trapped light within the radiation continuum." Chia Wei Hsu, et al. Nature 499, 188–191 (11 July 2013) DOI: 10.1038/nature12289. Received 25 February 2013 Accepted 13 May 2013 Published online 10 July 2013

"Bloch surface eigenstates within the radiation continuum" Light: Science and Application: … full/lsa201340a.html

"Transparent displays enabled by resonant nanoparticle scattering." Chia Wei Hsu, Bo Zhen, et al. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 3152 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4152. Received 11 November 2013 Accepted 19 December 2013 Published 21 January 2014

Related Stories

A mirror with a peephole

August 13, 2014

When light shines through air onto water, some of the light usually will be reflected back into the air. But at one specific angle, called the Brewster angle, all of the p-polarized light travels into the water with no reflection. ...

Enhancing optical interactions in advanced photonic devices

May 7, 2014

Trapping light into a small volume is a useful way of amplifying optical effects. Optical cavities, for example, can enhance the interaction between light and matter. Incorporating these tiny structures into actual devices ...

New metamaterial gives light a one-way ticket

July 1, 2014

The light-warping structures known as metamaterials have a new trick in their ever-expanding repertoire. Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have built a silver, glass and chromium nanostructure ...

Recommended for you

How heavy elements come about in the universe

March 19, 2019

Heavy elements are produced during stellar explosion or on the surfaces of neutron stars through the capture of hydrogen nuclei (protons). This occurs at extremely high temperatures, but at relatively low energies. An international ...

Trembling aspen leaves could save future Mars rovers

March 18, 2019

Researchers at the University of Warwick have been inspired by the unique movement of trembling aspen leaves, to devise an energy harvesting mechanism that could power weather sensors in hostile environments and could even ...

Quantum sensing method measures minuscule magnetic fields

March 15, 2019

A new way of measuring atomic-scale magnetic fields with great precision, not only up and down but sideways as well, has been developed by researchers at MIT. The new tool could be useful in applications as diverse as mapping ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Aug 25, 2014
Aug 25, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
not rated yet Aug 26, 2014
Although light does not escape the typical optical fiber because of its total internal reflection, the fiber confines all angles of light above a critical angle. "All the light above some cut off will be confined. In our mechanism, cancellation only happens at one particular angle. Only light at that particular angle is confined, so it has some more selectivity,"

So this might be useful in separating out the frequencies at the receiving end with high selectivity (which in turn means one could pack the frequencies on the optical cable tighter). If so then that would be the best possible outcome as one would not have to lay down new cables but could use existing ones to transmit more information.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.