Materials Science

Nanolasers with the Size of Virus Particles
Teri W. Odom, Northwestern University

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 such as the laser is no exception. Coherent light sources at the nanometer scale—nanolasers—are important not only for exploring phenomena in small dimensions but also for realizing optical devices with sizes that can beat the diffraction limit of light. This talk will discuss how to manufacture single laser devices that are the size of a virus particle and that can operate at room temperature.

Conventional lasers rely on three ingredients: a cavity, a gain medium, and a means to pump the gain, either optically or electrically. By definition, a nanolaser needs to have a cavity size on the order of 100 nanometers; however, to emit color that the eye can see (400-700 nm), cavity sizes need to be at least several times longer than the lasing wavelength. Hence, to create cavities with sizes smaller than that allowed by diffraction, we took advantage of metallic materials that support surface plasmons, collective oscillations of electrons that have no fundamental size limitations for confining light. Our nanolasers have cavities formed by two gold nanoparticles: structures with a 3D “bowtie” shape. The nanoscale gap between the nanoparticles can provide a well-defined, electromagnetic hot spot that can amplify light emission from the organic dye (gain medium) when the molecules are optically pumped. There are numerous applications of nanolasers, including high resolution nanolithography, increased optical data storage capacity, compact and ultra-fast photonic circuits, and improved biological sensors.

Background Review Article:
Rupert F. Oulton. Surface plasmon lasers: sources of nanoscopic light. 29 January 2012. Materials Today (2012) 15(1-2), 26-34. doi: 10.1016/S1369-7021(12)70018-4.

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