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May 25th, 2013
Rice University unveils method for tailoring optical processors
Rice University scientists have unveiled a robust new method for arranging metal nanoparticles in geometric patterns that can act as optical processors that transform incoming light signals into output of a different color.
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  • Arranging nanoparticles in geometric patterns allows for control of light with light

Rice’s team used the method to create an optical device in which incoming light could be directly controlled with light via a process known as “four-wave mixing.” Four-wave mixing has been widely studied, but Rice’s disc-patterning method is the first that can produce materials that are tailored to perform four-wave mixing with a wide range of colored inputs and outputs.

The information processing that takes place inside today’s computers, smartphones and tablets is electronic. Each of the billions of transistors in a computer chip uses electrical inputs to act upon and modify the electrical signals passing through it. Processing information with light instead of electricity could allow for computers that are both faster and more energy-efficient, but building an optical computer is complicated by the quantum rules that light obeys.

The patterns of metal discs LANP scientists created for the PNAS study are a type of nonlinear media. The team used electron-beam lithography to etch puck-shaped gold discs that were placed on a transparent surface for optical testing. The diameter of each disc was about one-thousandth the width of a human hair. Each was designed to harvest the energy from a particular frequency of light; by arranging a dozen of the discs in a closely spaced pattern, the team was able to enhance the nonlinear properties of the system by creating intense electrical fields.



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