Rensselaer Researchers Create World’s First Ideal Anti-Reflection Coating

New class of nanomaterials could lead to more efficient solar cells, brighter LEDs

Troy, N.Y. — A team of researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has created the world’s first material that reflects virtually no light. Reporting in the March issue of Nature Photonics, they describe an optical coating made from the material that enables vastly improved control over the basic properties of light. The research could open the door to much brighter LEDs, more efficient solar cells, and a new class of “smart” light sources that adjust to specific environments, among many other potential applications.

Most surfaces reflect some light — from a puddle of water all the way to a mirror. The new material has almost the same refractive index as air, making it an ideal building block for anti-reflection coatings. It sets a world record by decreasing the reflectivity compared to conventional anti-reflection coatings by an order of magnitude.

A fundamental property called the refractive index governs the amount of light a material reflects, as well as other optical properties such as diffraction, refraction, and the speed of light inside the material. “The refractive index is the most fundamental quantity in optics and photonics. It goes all the way back to Isaac Newton, who called it the ‘optical density,’” said E. Fred Schubert, the Wellfleet Senior Constellation Professor of the Future Chips Constellation at Rensselaer and senior author of the paper.

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New Technique Stores and Retrieves Entire Image from a Single Photon

Ultra-Dense Optical Storage — on One Photon

Researchers at the University of Rochester have made an optics breakthrough that allows them to encode an entire image's worth of data into a photon, slow the image down for storage, and then retrieve the image intact.

While the initial test image consists of only a few hundred pixels, a tremendous amount of information can be stored with the new technique.

The image, a "UR" for the University of Rochester, was made using a single pulse of light and the team can fit as many as a hundred of these pulses at once into a tiny, four-inch cell. Squeezing that much information into so small a space and retrieving it intact opens the door to optical buffering—storing information as light.

"It sort of sounds impossible, but instead of storing just ones and zeros, we're storing an entire image," says John Howell, assistant professor of physics and leader of the team that created the device, which is revealed in today's online issue of the journal Physical Review Letters. "It's analogous to the difference between snapping a picture with a single pixel and doing it with a camera—this is like a 6-megapixel camera."

"You can have a tremendous amount of information in a pulse of light, but normally if you try to buffer it, you can lose much of that information," says Ryan Camacho, Howell's graduate student and lead author on the article. "We're showing it's possible to pull out an enormous amount of information with an extremely high signal-to-noise ratio even with very low light levels."

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Light squeezes through nano coax

Physicists in the US have created the first nanoscale coaxial cables for the transmission of light. Operating much like the coaxial cables used to distribute television and radio signals, the cables can transmit light with wavelengths nearly four times their 200 nm diameter. The researchers claim that the ability to control light over sub-wavelength distances could lead to better optical microscopes, smaller computer chips and more efficient solar panels (Appl Phys Lett 90 021104)

Building a nano coax
Coaxial cables comprise an inner and outer conductor separated by an insulating dielectric layer and are used to transmit all manner of electromagnetic waves from radio to microwave. They are extremely useful because they can transmit waves with wavelengths much greater than their diameter, making cable television and other technologies possible.

Light is an electromagnetic wave so there is no reason why it cannot be transmitted in a similar manner via a coaxial cable -- but conventional wisdom had held that light could not travel through a cable of diameter less than its wavelength. Now, Boston College’s Jakub Rybczynski, Mike Naughton and colleagues realized that a coaxial could carry sub-wavelength light waves if it were miniaturized.

Their coaxial cable is based around a carbon nanotube, which forms the central conductor (see "Building a nano coax"). The nanotube is surrounded by a concentric ring of transparent aluminium oxide -- which acts as the dielectric layer -- and finally a concentric metal ring that acts as the outer conductor. The separation between the inner and outer conductors is about 100 nm.

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Ames Laboratory researchers announce findings in Science

AMES, Iowa – For the first time ever, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory have developed a material with a negative refractive index for visible light. Ames Laboratory senior physicist Costas Soukoulis, working with colleagues in Karlsruhe, Germany, designed a silver-based, mesh-like material that marks the latest advance in the rapidly evolving field of metamaterials, materials that could lead to a wide range of new applications as varied as ultrahigh-resolution imaging systems and cloaking devices.

The discovery, detailed in the Jan. 5 issue of Science and the Jan. 1 issue of Optic Letters, and noted in the journal Nature, marks a significant step forward from existing metamaterials that operate in the microwave or far infrared – but still invisible –regions of the spectrum. Those materials, announced this past summer, were heralded as the first step in creating an invisibility cloak.

Metamaterials, also known as left-handed materials, are exotic, artificially created materials that provide optical properties not found in natural materials. Natural materials refract light, or electromagnetic radiation, to the right of the incident beam at different angles and speeds. However, metamaterials make it possible to refract light to the left, or at a negative angle. This backward-bending characteristic provides scientists the ability to control light similar to the way they use semiconductors to control electricity, which opens a wide range of potential applications.

“Left-handed materials may one day lead to the development of a type of flat superlens that operates in the visible spectrum,” said Soukoulis, who is also an Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Such a lens would offer superior resolution over conventional technology, capturing details much smaller than one wavelength of light to vastly improve imaging for materials or biomedical applications,” such as giving researchers the power to see inside a human cell or diagnose disease in a baby still in the womb.

The challenge that Soukoulis and other scientists who work with metamaterials face is to fabricate them so that they refract light at ever smaller wavelengths. The “fishnet” design developed by Soukoulis’ group and produced by researchers Stefan Linden and Martin Wegener at the University of Karlsruhe was made by etching an array of holes into layers of silver and magnesium fluoride on a glass substrate. The holes are roughly 100 nanometers wide. For some perspective, a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers in diameter.

“We have fabricated for the first time a negative-index metamaterial with a refractive index of -0.6 at the red end of the visible spectrum (wavelength 780 nm),” said Soukoulis. “This is the smallest wavelength obtained so far.”

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Cheaper LEDs from breakthrough in zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowire research, Nano Letters study says

Engineers at UC San Diego have synthesized a long-sought semiconducting material that may pave the way for an inexpensive new kind of light emitting diode (LED) that could compete with today's widely used gallium nitride LEDs, according to a new paper in the journal Nano Letters.

To build an LED, you need both positively and negatively charged semiconducting materials; and the engineers synthesized zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoscale cylinders that transport positive charges or "holes" – so-called "p-type ZnO nanowires." They are endowed with a supply of positive charge carrying holes that, for years, have been the missing ingredients that prevented engineers from building LEDs from ZnO nanowires. In contrast, making "n-type" ZnO nanowires that carrier negative charges (electrons) has not been a problem. In an LED, when an electron meets a hole, it falls into a lower energy level and releases energy in the form of a photon of light.

Deli Wang, an electrical and computer engineering professor from UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering, and colleagues at UCSD and Peking University, report synthesis of high quality p-type zinc oxide nanowires in a paper published online by the journal Nano Letters.

"Zinc oxide nanostructures are incredibly well studied because they are so easy to make. Now that we have p-type zinc oxide nanowires, the opportunities for LEDs and beyond are endless," said Wang.

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Growing Glowing Nanowires to Light Up the Nanoworld

Growing Glowing Nanowires to Light Up the Nanoworld

NIST "grows" semiconductor nanowires that emit ultraviolet light as part of a project to make prototype nano-lasers and other devices and the measurement tools needed to characterize them. Electron micrograph shows the gallium nitride wires growing on a silicon substrate (color added for contrast.)

The nano world is getting brighter. Nanowires made of semiconductor materials are being used to make prototype lasers and light-emitting diodes with emission apertures roughly 100 nm in diameter—about 50 times narrower than conventional counterparts. Nanolight sources may have many applications, including “lab on a chip” devices for identifying chemicals and biological agents, scanning-probe microscope tips for imaging objects smaller than is currently possible, or ultra-precise tools for laser surgery and electronics manufacturing.

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are growing nanowires made of gallium nitride alloys and making prototype devices and nanometrology tools. The wires are grown under high vacuum by depositing atoms layer by layer on a silicon crystal. NIST is one of few laboratories capable of growing such semiconductor nanowires without using metal catalysts, an approach believed to enhance luminescence and flexibility in crystal design. The wires are generally between 30 and 500 nanometers (nm) in diameter and up to 12 micrometers long. When excited with a laser or electric current, the wires emit an intense glow in the ultraviolet or visible parts of the spectrum, depending on the alloy composition.

A paper in the May 22 issue of Applied Physics Letters* reports that individual nanowires grown at NIST produce sufficiently intense light to enable reliable room-temperature measurements of their important characteristics. For example, the peak wavelength of light emitted with electric field parallel to the long axis of a nanowire is shifted with respect to the peak wavelength emitted with electric field perpendicular to the wire. Such differences in emission are used to characterize the nanowire materials and also may be exploited to make sensors and other devices.

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Light's Most Exotic Trick Yet: So Fast it Goes ... Backwards?

Light's Most Exotic Trick Yet: So Fast it Goes ... Backwards?

In the past few years, scientists have found ways to make light go both faster and slower than its usual speed limit, but now researchers at the University of Rochester have published a paper today in Science on how they've gone one step further: pushing light into reverse. As if to defy common sense, the backward-moving pulse of light travels faster than light.

Confused? You're not alone.

"I've had some of the world's experts scratching their heads over this one," says Robert Boyd, the M. Parker Givens Professor of Optics at the University of Rochester. "Theory predicted that we could send light backwards, but nobody knew if the theory would hold up or even if it could be observed in laboratory conditions."

Boyd recently showed how he can slow down a pulse of light to slower than an airplane, or speed it up faster than its breakneck pace, using exotic techniques and materials. But he's now taken what was once just a mathematical oddity—negative speed—and shown it working in the real world.

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NIST Photon Detectors Have Record Efficiency

NIST Photon Detectors Have Record Efficiency

The four yellow squares in the center of this micrograph are NIST single photon detectors. The top two detectors are 25 by 25 micrometers. The bottom two detectors are 50 by 50 micrometers. The detectors operate with a record 88 percent efficiency.

Sensors that detect and count single photons, the smallest quantities of light, with 88 percent efficiency have been demonstrated by physicists at the National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST). This record efficiency is an important step toward making reliable single photon detectors for use in practical quantum cryptography systems, the most secure method known for ensuring the privacy of a communications channel.

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Scientists develop novel multi-color light-emitting diodes

Scientists develop novel multi-color light-emitting diodes
Contact: Todd Hanson,, (505) 665-2085 (04-141)

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., May 17, 2005 -- A team of University of California scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed the first completely inorganic, multi-color light-emitting diodes (LEDs) based on colloidal quantum dots encapsulated in a gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductor. The work represents a new "hybrid" approach to the development of solid-state lighting. Solid-state lighting offers the advantages of reduced operating expenses, lower energy consumption and more reliable performance.

. . .

The secret to making the electrical connection to the quantum dots is the use of a technique developed at Los Alamos by Mark Hoffbauer and his team that utilizes a beam of energetic, neutral nitrogen atoms for growing GaN films. The technique, called ENABLE (for Energetic Neutral Atom Beam Lithography/Epitaxy), allows for the low-temperature encapsulation of nanocrystals in semiconducting GaN without adversely affecting their luminescence properties. By encapsulating one nanocrystal layer or two layers of nanocrystals of different sizes, the researchers have demonstrated that their LEDs can emit light of either a single color or two different colors. The two color-operation regime is an important step toward creating devices that produce white light.

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In art, color is information. Just look at a painting by an artist such as Monet: Each uniquely hued brushstroke brings to life a new blade of grass, a leaf, a flower petal, a slice of sky-each a component of the complete picture.

Scientists, too, use color to paint clearer pictures of the things-everything from combustion gases to cancer cells-they study. And as a result of a new laser system that rapidly delivers a pulsed rainbow of colors, those pictures will contain more information than ever before. Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Scott Sanders developed the system, which is highlighted in the cover story of the May issue of Optics and Photonics News.