MMaterialsgateNEWS 2016/09/01

Related MaterialsgateCARDS

New optical material offers unprecedented control of light and thermal radiation

Credit: Nanfang Yu, Columbia Engineering

Columbia Engineers discover that samarium nickelate shows promise for active photonic devices - SmNiO3 could potentially transform optoelectronic technologies, including smart windows, infrared camouflage, and optical communications.

A team led by Nanfang Yu, assistant professor of applied physics at Columbia Engineering, has discovered a new phase-transition optical material and demonstrated novel devices that dynamically control light over a much broader wavelength range and with larger modulation amplitude than what has currently been possible. The team, including researchers from Purdue, Harvard, Drexel, and Brookhaven National Laboratory, found that samarium nickelate (SmNiO3) can be electrically tuned continuously between a transparent and an opaque state over an unprecedented broad range of spectrum from the blue in the visible (wavelength of 400 nm) to the thermal radiation spectrum in the mid-infrared (wavelength of a few tens of micrometers). The study, which is the first investigation of the optical properties of SmNiO3 and the first demonstration of the material in photonic device applications, is published online today in Advanced Materials.

"The performance of SmNiO3 is record-breaking in terms of the magnitude and wavelength range of optical tuning," Yu says. "There is hardly any other material that offers such a combination of properties that are highly desirable for optoelectronic devices. The reversible tuning between the transparent and opaque states is based on electron doping at room temperature, and potentially very fast, which opens up a wide range of exciting applications, such as 'smart windows' for dynamic and complete control of sunlight, variable thermal emissivity coatings for infrared camouflage and radiative temperature control, optical modulators, and optical memory devices."

Some of the potential new functions include using SmNiO3's capability in controlling thermal radiation to build "intelligent" coatings for infrared camouflage and thermoregulation. These coatings could make people and vehicles, for example, appear much colder than they actually are and thus indiscernible under a thermal camera at night. The coating could help reduce the large temperature gradients on a satellite by adjusting the relative thermal radiation from its bright and dark side with respect to the sun and thereby prolong the lifetime of the satellite. Because this phase-transition material can potentially switch between the transparent and opaque states with high speed, it may be used in modulators for free-space optical communication and optical radar and in optical memory devices.

Researchers have long been trying to build active optical devices that can dynamically control light. These include Boeing 787 Dreamliner's "smart windows," which control (but not completely) the transmission of sunlight, rewritable DVD discs on which we can use a laser beam to write and erase data, and high-data-rate, long-distance fiber optic communications systems where information is "written" into light beams by optical modulators. Active optical devices are not more common in everyday life, however, because it has been so difficult to find advanced actively tunable optical materials, and to design proper device architectures that amplify the effects of such tunable materials.

When Shriram Ramanathan, associate professor of materials science at Harvard, discovered SmNiO3's giant tunable electric resistivity at room temperature, Yu took note. The two met at the IEEE Photonics Conference in 2013 and decided to collaborate. Yu and his students, working with Ramanathan, who is a co-author of this paper, conducted initial optical studies of the phase-transition material, integrated the material into nanostructured designer optical interfaces--"metasurfaces"--and created prototype active optoelectronic devices, including optical modulators that control a beam of light, and variable emissivity coatings that control the efficiency of thermal radiation.

"SmNiO3 is really an unusual material," says Zhaoyi Li, the paper's lead author and Yu's PhD student, "because it becomes electrically more insulating and optically more transparent as it is doped with more electrons--this is just the opposite of common materials such as semiconductors."

It turns out that doped electrons "lock" into pairs with the electrons initially in the material, a quantum mechanical phenomenon called "strong electron correlation," and this effect makes these electrons unavailable to conduct electric current and absorbing light. So, after electron doping, SmNiO3 thin films that were originally opaque suddenly allow more than 70 percent of visible light and infrared radiation to transmit through.

"One of our biggest challenges," Zhaoyi adds, "was to integrate SmNiO3 into optical devices. To address this challenge, we developed special nanofabrication techniques to pattern metasurface structures on SmNiO3 thin films. In addition, we carefully chose the device architecture and materials to ensure that the devices can sustain high temperature and pressure that are required in the fabrication process to activate SmNiO3."

Yu and his collaborators plan next to run a systematic study to understand the basic science of the phase transition of SmNiO3 and to explore its technological applications. The team will investigate the intrinsic speed of phase transition and the number of phase-transition cycles the material can endure before it breaks down. They will also work on addressing technological problems, including synthesizing ultra-thin and smooth films of the material and developing nanofabrication techniques to integrate the material into novel flat optical devices.

"This work is one crucial step towards realizing the major goal of my research lab, which is to make an optical interface a functional optical device," Yu notes. "We envision replacing bulky optical devices and components with 'flat optics' by utilizing strong interactions between light and two-dimensional structured materials to control light at will. The discovery of this phase-transition material and the successful integration of it into a flat device architecture are a major leap forward to realizing active flat optical devices not only with enhanced performance from the devices we are using today, but with completely new functionalities."

Yu's team included Ramanathan, his Harvard PhD student You Zhou, and his Purdue postdoctoral fellow Zhen Zhang, who synthesized the phase-transition material and did some of the phase transition experiments (this work began at Harvard and continued when Ramanathan moved to Purdue); Drexel University Materials Science Professor Christopher Li, PhD student Hao Qi, and research scientist Qiwei Pan, who helped make solid-state devices by integrating SmNiO3 with novel solid polymer electrolytes; and Brookhaven National Laboratory staff scientists Ming Lu and Aaron Stein, who helped device nanofabrication. Yuan Yang, Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering in the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics at Columbia Engineering, was consulted during the progress of this research.

Source: Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science – 30.08.2016.

Investigated and edited by:

Dr.-Ing. Christoph Konetschny, Inhaber und Gründer von Materialsgate
Büro für Material- und Technologieberatung
The investigation and editing of this document was performed with best care and attention.
For the accuracy, validity, availability and applicability of the given information, we take no liability.
Please discuss the suitability concerning your specific application with the experts of the named company or organization.

You want additional material or technology investigations concerning this subject?

Materialsgate is leading in material consulting and material investigation.
Feel free to use our established consulting services

MMore on this topic

Rice University researchers discover way to make highly aligned, wafer-scale films

A simple filtration process helped Rice University researchers create flexible, wafer-scale films of highly aligned and closely packed carbon nanotubes. Scientists at Rice, with support from Los Alamos National Laboratory, have made inch-wide films of densely packed, chirality-enriched single-walled carbon nanotubes through a process revealed today in Nature Nanotechnology. In the right solution of nanotubes and under the right conditions, the tubes assemble themselves by the millions into long rows that are aligned better than once thought possible, the researchers reported. The thin films offer possibilities for making flexible electronic and photonic (light-manipulating) devices... more read more

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a dielectric film that has optical and electrical properties similar to air, but is strong enough to be incorporated into electronic and photonic devices - making them both more efficient and more mechanically stable.

At issue is something called refractive index, which measures how much light bends when it moves through a substance. Air, for example, has a refractive index of 1, while water has a refractive index of 1.33 - which is why a straw appears to bend when you put it in a glass of water. Photonic devices require a high contrast between its component materials, with some components having a high refractive index and others have a low one. The higher the contrast between those materials, the more efficient the photonic device is - and the better it performs. Air has the lowest refractive index, but it isn't mechanically stable. And the lowest refractive index found in solid, naturally occurring... more read more

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a new lithography technique that uses nanoscale spheres to create three-dimensional (3-D) structures with biomedical, electronic and photonic applications.

The new technique is significantly less expensive than conventional methods and does not rely on stacking two-dimensional (2-D) patterns to create 3-D structures. "Our approach reduces the cost of nanolithography to the point where it could be done in your garage," says Dr. Chih-Hao Chang, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper on the work. Most conventional lithography uses a variety of techniques to focus light on a photosensitive film to create 2-D patterns. These techniques rely on specialized lenses, electron beams or lasers - all of which are extremely expensive. Other conventional techniques use mechanical... more read more

A new combination of materials can efficiently guide electricity and light along the same tiny wire, a finding that could be a step towards building computer chips capable of transporting digital information at the speed of light.

Reporting today in The Optical Society's (OSA) high-impact journal Optica, optical and material scientists at the University of Rochester and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich describe a basic model circuit consisting of a silver nanowire and a single-layer flake of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2). Using a laser to excite electromagnetic waves called plasmons at the surface of the wire, the researchers found that the MoS2 flake at the far end of the wire generated strong light emission. Going in the other direction, as the excited electrons relaxed, they were collected by the wire and converted back into plasmons, which emitted light of the same wavelength. "We have... more read more


Partner of the Week

Search in MaterialsgateNEWS

Books and products