Publication date: 15-12-2015 18:11
Sylvain Lannebère and Mário Silveirinha published in Nature Communications a research article about a nanoscale device (called “optical meta-atom”) that may in ideal circumstances trap a quantized amount of light with an infinite lifetime.The confinement of light in some region of space is typically achieved with the help of mirrors or other specially engineered material structures. However, light is an object difficult to tame: no matter how elaborate are the constructions used to keep light in, it always finds its way out and the lifetime of the light oscillations in a cavity is always finite. Hence, the goal of confining light indefinitely—even in theory—has remained elusive. Now, Lannebère and Silveirinha found that under very peculiar circumstances –using materials with a vanishing permittivity– there is an opportunity to suppress the radiation loss. Based on this idea, they proposed an “optical meta-atom” that can store a quantized amount of light – being the stored energy precisely determined, similar to the energy quantization of electrons in real atoms – in a nanoscale volume. The trick to let the incoming light in and prevent it to escape afterwards relies on a nonlinear effect that enables squeezing the light wavelength in the core until it reaches a critical value for which the light is perfectly screened by the meta-atom walls. It is envisioned that this meta-atom can be an embryo for future optical memories and that this idea may contribute to the on-going effort of finding competitive alternatives to the standard silicon technologies based on photonic integrated platforms with their unbeatable switching times and transmission capacity. This research has its origin in a project funded by Instituto de Telecomunicações (IT) developed in the University of Coimbra.
A news release on this study can be found in Phys.org (follow the link below).
The article is available in open-access in