Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Synthetic magnetism used to control light: Opens door to nanoscale applications that use light instead of electricity

Date:
October 31, 2012
Source:
Stanford School of Engineering
Summary:
Physics and engineering researchers have demonstrated a device that produces a synthetic magnetism to exert virtual force on photons similar to the effect of magnets on electrons. The advance could yield a new class of nanoscale applications that use light instead of electricity.

Promise of harnessing light. An advance could yield a new class of nanoscale applications that use light instead of electricity.
Credit: mrage / Fotolia

Stanford researchers in physics and engineering have demonstrated a device that produces a synthetic magnetism to exert virtual force on photons similar to the effect of magnets on electrons. The advance could yield a new class of nanoscale applications that use light instead of electricity.

Magnetically speaking, photons are the mavericks of the engineering world. Lacking electrical charge, they are free to run even in the most intense magnetic fields. But all that may soon change. In a paper published in Nature Photonics, an interdisciplinary team from Stanford University reports that it has created a device that tames the flow of photons with synthetic magnetism.

The process breaks a key law of physics known as the time-reversal symmetry of light and could yield an entirely new class of devices that use light instead of electricity for applications ranging from accelerators and microscopes to speedier on-chip communications.

"This is a fundamentally new way to manipulate light flow. It presents a richness of photon control not seen before," said Shanhui Fan, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford and senior author of the study.

A Departure

The ability to use magnetic fields to redirect electrons is a founding principle of electronics, but a corollary for photons had not previously existed. When an electron approaches a magnetic field, it meets resistance and opts to follow the path of least effort, travelling in circular motion around the field. Similarly, this new device sends photons in a circular motion around the synthetic magnetic field.

The Stanford solution capitalizes on recent research into photonic crystals -- materials that can confine and release photons. To fashion their device, the team members created a grid of tiny cavities etched in silicon, forming the photonic crystal. By precisely applying electric current to the grid they can control -- or "harmonically tune," as the researchers say -- the photonic crystal to synthesize magnetism and exert virtual force upon photons. The researchers refer to the synthetic magnetism as an effective magnetic field.

The researchers reported that they were able to alter the radius of a photon's trajectory by varying the electrical current applied to the photonic crystal and by manipulating the speed of the photons as they enter the system. This dual mechanism provides a great degree of precision control over the photons' path, allowing the researchers to steer the light wherever they like.

Broken Laws

In fashioning their device, the team has broken what is known in physics as the time-reversal symmetry of light. Breaking time-reversal symmetry in essence introduces a charge on the photons that reacts to the effective magnetic field the way an electron would to a real magnetic field.

For engineers, it means that a photon travelling forward will have different properties than when it is traveling backward, the researchers said, and this yields promising technical possibilities. "The breaking of time-reversal symmetry is crucial as it opens up novel ways to control light. We can, for instance, completely prevent light from traveling backward to eliminate reflection," said Fan.

The new device, therefore, solves at least one major drawback of current photonic systems that use fiber optic cables. Photons tend to reverse course in such systems, causing a form of reflective noise known as backscatter.

"Despite their smooth appearance, glass fibers are, photonically speaking, quite rough. This causes a certain amount of backscatter, which degrades performance," said Kejie Fang, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Physics at Stanford and the first author of the study.

In essence, once a photon enters the new device it cannot go back. This quality, the researchers believe, will be key to future applications of the technology as it eliminates disorders such as signal loss common to fiber optics and other light-control mechanisms.

"Our system is a clear direction toward demonstrating on-chip applications of a new type of light-based communication device that solves a number of existing challenges," said Zongfu Yu, a post-doctoral researcher in Shanhui Fan's lab and co-author of the paper. "We're excited to see where it leads."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Stanford School of Engineering. The original article was written by Andrew Myers. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kejie Fang, Zongfu Yu, Shanhui Fan. Realizing effective magnetic field for photons by controlling the phase of dynamic modulation. Nature Photonics, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/nphoton.2012.236

Cite This Page:

Stanford School of Engineering. "Synthetic magnetism used to control light: Opens door to nanoscale applications that use light instead of electricity." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 October 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121031151609.htm>.
Stanford School of Engineering. (2012, October 31). Synthetic magnetism used to control light: Opens door to nanoscale applications that use light instead of electricity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121031151609.htm
Stanford School of Engineering. "Synthetic magnetism used to control light: Opens door to nanoscale applications that use light instead of electricity." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121031151609.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

Small Reactors Could Be Future of Nuclear Energy

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the industry fell under intense scrutiny. Now, small underground nuclear power plants are being considered as the possible future of the nuclear energy. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Horseless Carriage Introduced at NY Auto Show

Horseless Carriage Introduced at NY Auto Show

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) An electric car that proponents hope will replace horse-drawn carriages in New York City has also been revealed at the auto show. (Apr. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Honda's New ASIMO Robot, More Human-Like Than Ever

Honda's New ASIMO Robot, More Human-Like Than Ever

AFP (Apr. 17, 2014) It walks and runs, even up and down stairs. It can open a bottle and serve a drink, and politely tries to shake hands with a stranger. Meet the latest ASIMO, Honda's humanoid robot. Duration: 00:54 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
German Researchers Crack Samsung's Fingerprint Scanner

German Researchers Crack Samsung's Fingerprint Scanner

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) German researchers have used a fake fingerprint made from glue to bypass the fingerprint security system on Samsung's new Galaxy S5 smartphone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins