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Trapping and controlling light at the interface of atomically thin nanomaterials

Scientists propose a new method to confine light in an atomically thin graphene layer by leveraging topological phenomena that occur at the interface of specially designed nanomaterials.

Light can partake in peculiar phenomena at the nanoscale. Exploring these phenomena can unlock sophisticated applications and provide useful insights into the interactions between light waves and other materials.

In a recent study, scientists at Cornell University propose a novel method by which nanoscale light can be manipulated and transported. These special modes of light transport are known to arise at finely tuned interfaces between slightly different nanomaterials. Minwoo Jung, lead researcher on this study, illustrates this concept through a simple analogy: “A floating tube has a hole in the middle, but a normal balloon doesn’t. No matter how you squeeze the round balloon, it cannot be reshaped like a donut-at least not without popping the balloon, re-knitting the rubber, and re-injecting the air. Thus, a tube and a balloon are distinct in their topology because they are not connected through a smooth deformation.”

Jung further explains that physicists have been interested in gluing two topologically distinct materials side by side so that one of them acts like a balloon and the other like a tube. This means that, at their interface, a process that connects these two materials must occur, much like the poking/popping/re-knitting/re-injecting from a balloon to a tube. Under the right conditions, this process can give rise to a strong channel for transmitting energy or information along the interface. Because this process can be applied to light (which acts as a carrier of energy or information), this branch of physics is called topological photonics.

Jung and his team combined the fascinating concept of topological photonics with an innovative technique that traps light in an atomically thin material. This method brought together two…

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