An electric current will not only heat a hybrid metamaterial, but will also trigger it to change state and fade into the background like a chameleon in what may be the proof-of-concept of the first controllable metamaterial device, or metadevice, according to a team of engineers.
“Previous metamaterials work focused mainly on cloaking objects so they were invisible in the radio frequency or other specific frequencies,” said Douglas H. Werner, John L. and Genevieve H. McCain Chair Professor of electrical engineering, Penn State. “Here we are not trying to make something disappear, but to make it blend in with the background like a chameleon and we are working in optical wavelengths, specifically in the infrared.”
Metamaterials are synthetic, composite materials that possess qualities not seen in natural materials. These composites derive their functionality by their internal structure rather than by their chemical composition. Existing metamaterials have unusual electromagnetic or acoustic properties. Metadevices take metamaterials and do something of interest or value as any device does.
“The key to this metamaterial and metadevice is vanadium dioxide, a phase change crystal with a phase transition that is triggered by temperatures created by an electric current,” said Lei Kang, research associate in electrical engineering, Penn State.
The metamaterial is composed of a base layer of gold thick enough so that light cannot pass through it. A thin layer of aluminum dioxide separates the gold from the active vanadium dioxide layer. Another layer of aluminum dioxide separates the vanadium from a gold-patterned layer that is attached to an external electric source. The geometry of the patterned mesh screen controls the functional wavelength range. The amount of current flowing through the device controls the Joule heating effect, the heating due to resistance.
“The proposed metadevice integrated with novel transition materials represents a major step forward by providing a universal approach to creating self-sufficient and highly versatile nanophotonic systems,” the researchers said in today’s (Oct. 27) issue of Nature Communications.
As a proof of concept, the researchers created a .035 inch by .02 inch device and cut the letters PSU into the gold mesh layer so the vanadium dioxide showed through. The researchers photographed the device using an infrared camera at 2.67 microns. Without any current flowing through the device, the PSU stands out as highly reflective. With a current of 2.03 amps, the PSU fades into the background and becomes invisible, while at 2.20 amps, the PSU is clearly visible but the background has become highly reflective.
The response of the vanadium dioxide is tunable by altering the current flowing through the device. According to the researchers, vanadium dioxide can change state very rapidly and it is the device configuration that limits the tuning.
Researchers have designed a device that uses light to manipulate its mechanical properties. The device, which was fabricated using a plasmomechanical metamaterial, operates through a unique mechanism that couples its optical and mechanical resonances, enabling it to oscillate indefinitely using energy absorbed from light.
This work demonstrates a metamaterial-based approach to develop an optically-driven mechanical oscillator. The device can potentially be used as a new frequency reference to accurately keep time in GPS, computers, wristwatches and other devices, researchers said. Other potential applications that could be derived from this metamaterial-based platform include high precision sensors and quantum transducers. The research was published Oct. 10 in the journal Nature Photonics.
Researchers engineered the metamaterial-based device by integrating tiny light absorbing nanoantennas onto nanomechanical oscillators. The study was led by Ertugrul Cubukcu, a professor of nanoengineering and electrical engineering at the University of California San Diego. The work, which Cubukcu started as a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania and is continuing at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, demonstrates how efficient light-matter interactions can be utilized for applications in novel nanoscale devices.
Metamaterials are artificial materials that are engineered to exhibit exotic properties not found in nature. For example, metamaterials can be designed to manipulate light, sound and heat waves in ways that can’t typically be done with conventional materials.
Metamaterials are generally considered “lossy” because their metal components absorb light very efficiently. “The lossy trait of metamaterials is considered a nuisance in photonics applications and telecommunications systems, where you have to transmit a lot of power. We’re presenting a unique metamaterials approach by taking advantage of this lossy feature,” Cubukcu said.
The device in this study resembles a tiny capacitor—roughly the size of a quarter—consisting of two square plates measuring 500 microns by 500 microns. The top plate is a bilayer gold/silicon nitride membrane containing an array of cross-shaped slits—the nanoantennas—etched into the gold layer. The bottom plate is a metal reflector that is separated from the gold/silicon nitride bilayer by a three-micron-wide air gap.
When light is shined upon the device, the nanoantennas absorb all of the incoming radiation from light and convert that optical energy into heat. In response, the gold/silicon nitride bilayer bends because gold expands more than silicon nitride when heated. The bending of the bilayer alters the width of the air gap separating it from the metal reflector. This change in spacing causes the bilayer to absorb less light and as a result, the bilayer bends back to its original position. The bilayer can once again absorb all of the incoming light and the cycle repeats over and over again.
The device relies on a unique hybrid optical resonance known as the Fano resonance, which emerges as a result of the coupling between two distinct optical resonances of the metamaterial. The optical resonance can be tuned “at will” by applying a voltage.
The researchers also point out that because the plasmomechanical metamaterial can efficiently absorb light, it can function under a broad optical resonance. That means this metamaterial can potentially respond to a light source like an LED and won’t need a strong laser to provide the energy.
“Using plasmonic metamaterials, we were able to design and fabricate a device that can utilize light to amplify or dampen microscopic mechanical motion more powerfully than other devices that demonstrate these effects. Even a non-laser light source could still work on this device,” said Hai Zhu, a former graduate student in Cubukcu’s lab and first author of the study.
“Optical metamaterials enable the chip-level integration of functionalities such as light-focusing, spectral selectivity and polarization control that are usually performed by conventional optical components such as lenses, optical filters and polarizers. Our particular metamaterial-based approach can extend these effects across the electromagnetic spectrum,” said Fei Yi, a postdoctoral researcher who worked in Cubukcu’s lab.