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 Smoothing the Way for Light

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Date posted: 30/07/2009

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a cheap way to repeatedly make very smooth nanopatterned thin films. The advance could have implications for making devices - such as more efficient solar cells, higher-resolution microscopes, and optical computers - that use light in an unconventional way.

Surface waves of light called plasmons can do things that ordinary light waves can't--squeezing into much smaller spaces for high-resolution imaging or miniaturized optical circuits, for example. These surface waves can be generated and controlled by shining light on thin, smooth, patterned metal films. But plasmons scatter easily, so the nanopatterned metal films that guide plasmons must be very smooth. And such smooth metal patterns are difficult to make.

"People have shown useful effects with plasmons, but the problem is doing it on a substrate you could cheaply and reproducibly make," says David Norris, professor of chemistry at the University of Minnesota. Up till now, researchers have been making plasmonic devices one at a time using techniques such as blasting out metal patterns using beams of high-energy ions or electrons. Because each of these devices is "handmade," says Norris, each is different, making standardization difficult. And while these methods are good for carving out nanoscale features in metal, they have the unintended consequence of making the surface rougher. As a result, harnessing plasmons has remained largely a laboratory curiosity and not a practical technology.

See the full Story via external site: www.technologyreview.com



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