Nanoantenna separates colors of light

September 26, 2011

Nanoantenna acts as a router for red and blue light, due to nanoparticles of gold and silver having different optical properties (credit: Timur Shegai)

Chalmers University of Technology researchers have built a simple nanoantenna that directs red and blue colors in opposite directions, even though the antenna is smaller than the wavelength of light.

The findings could lead to optical nanosensors being able to detect very low concentrations of gases or biomolecules.

A structure that is smaller than the wavelength of visible light (390–770 nanometers) is normally unable to scatter light. The trick the Chalmers researchers used was to build an antenna with an asymmetric material composition, creating optical phase shifts.

The antenna consists of two nanoparticles (one silver and the other gold) about 20 nanometers apart on a glass surface. Experiments show that the antenna scatters visible light so that red and blue colors are directed in opposite directions.

“The explanation for this exotic phenomenon is optical phase shifts,” says Timur Shegai, one of the researchers behind the discovery. “The reason is that nanoparticles of gold and silver have different optical properties, in particular different plasmon resonances (the nanoparticles oscillate strongly in pace with the frequency of the light), which in turn affects the light propagation, even though the antenna is so small. “

The method used by the Chalmers researchers to control the light by using asymmetric material composition — such as silver and gold — is completely new. The antennas can be fabricated densely over large areas using cheap colloidal lithography.

Nanoplasmonics — controlling how visible light behaves at the nanoscale using a variety of metal nanostructures — is a rapidly growing research field, and researchers now have a new parameter — asymmetric material composition — to explore in order to control the light.

Nanoplasmonics can be applied in a variety of areas, says Mikael Käll, professor in the research group at Chalmers. “One example is optical sensors, where you can use plasmons to build sensors which are so sensitive that they can detect much lower concentrations of toxins or signalling substances than is possible today. This may involve the detection of single molecules in a sample, for example, to diagnose diseases at an early stage, which facilitates quick initiation of treatment.”

Ref.: Timur Shegai, Si Chen, Vladimir D. Miljković, Gülis Zengin, Peter Johansson, and Mikael Käll, A bimetallic nanoantenna for directional colour routing, Nature Communications, September 2011