Modern optical devices need to constantly change the characteristics of interaction with light. For this, various mechanical devices are used that move the lenses, rotate reflective surfaces, and move laser emitters. An international group of scientists, which included employees of the University of ITMO and the University of Exeter, has proposed a new metamaterial that can change its optical characteristics independently, without mechanical influences. This can significantly increase reliability and reduce the cost of manufacturing complex optical devices.
The results of the work of researchers fell on the cover of the journal Optica .
The rapid development of science in recent decades has given mankind a very wide selection of new materials. Now, the creators of complex mechanisms need less and less to adjust to the restrictions that traditional materials impose on their imagination. The so-called metamaterials open up enormous prospects in this sense, and the ITMO University is also working on their creation. Due to the complex structure of the constituent elements, the functionality of such structures is less limited by the properties of the materials from which they are made. Metamaterials can be voluminous, or they can be flat - in this case they are called metasurfaces .
“Metasurfaces allow you to achieve so many interesting effects in controlling light,” says a senior scientific Ivan Sinev, employee of the New Physical Engineering University of ITMO University. - However, they have a problem - all their properties are laid at the time of production and remain unchanged. For practical application devices, I would like to manage these properties not only at the time of creation, but also as they are used. ”
In search of material for such adaptive optics, researchers from ITMO University, who have extensive experience working with silicon metasurfaces, have teamed up with colleagues from the Exeter University of England, who have long been researching materials with phase memory. Such substances include, for example, compounds of germanium, antimony and tellurium (GeSbTe), which
are used, for example, in DVD-ROMs.
“We made calculations of what the new silicon-based composite material should look like, - says Pavel Trofimov, an engineer at the New Fiztekh, - the GeSbTe insert is presented as a thin layer between two silicon layers. It turns out such a sandwich - first silicon is sprayed onto the initial substrate, then a layer of material with phase memory, then silicon again. ”
Then, using electronic lithography, scientists obtained arrays of microscopic hybrid disks - a metasurface with which they had already worked in the laboratory, checking its properties for controlling light. As expected, the combination of the two materials gave a very important effect - the transparency level of the resulting surface could be changed during the experiment. The fact is that a silicon disk has two optical resonances in the near infrared zone, which allow it to reflect the infrared beam directed to the surface especially strongly. The GeSbTe layer allowed under certain conditions to “turn off” one of these resonances, making the disk almost completely transparent to light in the near infrared spectrum.
Materials with functional memory have two states - crystalline, with a rigid ordered structure of atoms, and amorphous. If the GeSbTe layer located in the center of the metamaterial is in the crystalline state, then the second resonance will disappear, but if it is amorphous, the disk will still reflect infrared rays.
“To switch the metasurface between the two states, we used a pulsed laser with a fairly high energy, - says Trofimov, - a short laser pulse heats the GeSbTe layer to its melting point, after which it quickly cools and amorphizes. If you act on the disk with a series of short pulses, then it cools more slowly, freezing in the crystal structure. ”
The properties of the new metasurface can come in handy for a wide variety of applications. First of all, this is the creation of lidars, devices that scan space using radiation and the reception of infrared pulses reflected by objects. Also, the potential principle of their creation can be taken as a basis in the production of special ultra-thin lenses for photo lenses, for example, installed in mobile phones.