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  Date: 27th Jan 2011

The new meta materials; semiconductors of photons

Purdue university researchers are developing a new class of "plasmonic meta materials" as potential building blocks to built "nanophotonic" devices for various applications such as focusing and imaging with subwavelength resolution, invisibility cloaks, and optical black holes to nanoscale optics, data processing, and quantum information applications. These materials with refractive index of less than one and also negative index offer extraordinary response to electromagnetic, acoustic, and thermal waves that transcends the properties of natural materials.

The challenges posed in developing these materials are: too much light is "lost," or absorbed by metals such as silver and gold contained in the metamaterials, and the materials need to be more precisely tuned so that they possess the proper index of refraction.

Now, researchers are proposing a new approach to overcome these obstacles. Findings will be detailed in an article appearing Friday (Jan. 21 2011) in the journal Science. The article was written by Boltasseva and Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor and a professor of applied physics and materials science at the California Institute of Technology.

The researchers are working to replace silver and gold in materials that are created using two options: making semiconductors more metallic by adding metal impurities to them; or adding non-metallic elements to metals, in effect making them less metallic. Examples of these materials include aluminum oxides and titanium nitride, which looks like gold and is used to coat the domes of Russian churches.

Researchers have tested some of the new materials, demonstrating their optical properties and finding that they outperform silver and gold, in work based at the Birck Nanotechnology Center in Purdue's Discovery Park.

The possible applications suggested by this material include:
1. 10x more powerful optical microscopes to see objects as small as DNA
2. New types of light-harvesting systems for more efficient solar cells
3. Computers and consumer electronics that use light instead of electronic signals to process     information, where the nano sized switching transistor lets photons instead of electrons.
4. And also cloak of invisibility is possible by this material.

These are only a sample of applications, application-exploring of this material will be a another wave of innovation.

The release also says: Some of the new materials are showing promise in uses involving near-infrared light, the range of the spectrum critical for telecommunications and fiberoptics. Other materials also might work for light in the visible range of the spectrum. The new materials might be tuned so that their refractive index is ideal for specific ranges of the spectrum, allowing their use for particular applications.

These material's behavior looks closer to electric semiconductor material, where the difference is the semiconductance or semiresistance is to photon rather than electrons.

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