Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Persuading light to mix it up with matter

Date:
October 24, 2013
Source:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Summary:
Scientists have documented a never-before-seen coupling of photons with electrons on the surface of an exotic crystal.

A sample of bismuth selenide, a topological insulator, is seen inside the test apparatus in Nuh Gedik's lab, ready to be studied using the team's femtosecond laser system and electron spectrometer.
Credit: Bryce Vickmark

Researchers at MIT have succeeded in producing and measuring a coupling of photons and electrons on the surface of an unusual type of material called a topological insulator. This type of coupling had been predicted by theorists, but never observed.

The researchers suggest that this finding could lead to the creation of materials whose electronic properties could be "tuned" in real time simply by shining precise laser beams at them. The work "opens up a new avenue for optical manipulation of quantum states of matter," says Nuh Gedik, the Lawrence C. (1944) and Sarah W. Biedenharn Associate Professor of Physics and senior author of a paper published this week in Science.

Gedik, postdoc Yihua Wang (now at Stanford University), and two other MIT researchers carried out the experiments using a technique Gedik's lab has been developing for several years. Their method involves shooting femtosecond (millionths of a billionth of a second) pulses of mid-infrared light at a sample of material and observing the results with an electron spectrometer, a specialized high-speed camera the team developed.

They demonstrated the existence of a quantum-mechanical mixture of electrons and photons, known as a Floquet-Bloch state, in a crystalline solid. As first theorized by Swiss physicist Felix Bloch, electrons move in a crystal in a regular, repeating pattern dictated by the periodic structure of the crystal lattice. Photons are electromagnetic waves that have a distinct, regular frequency; their interaction with matter leads to Floquet states, named after the French mathematician Gaston Floquet. "Entangling" electrons with photons in a coherent manner generates the Floquet-Bloch state, which is periodic both in time and space.

Victor Galitski, an associate professor of physics at the University of Maryland who was not involved in this research, says, "The importance of this work is difficult to overestimate." He says it "opens new avenues not only for optical control of topological states, but also more generally for engineering of new kinds of electronic states in solid-state systems."

The researchers mixed the photons from an intense laser pulse with the exotic surface electrons on a topological insulator. Their high-speed camera captured snapshots of the exotic state, from its generation to its rapid disappearance, a process lasting only a few hundred femtoseconds. They also found there were different kinds of mixed states when the polarization of the photons changed.

Their findings suggest that it's possible to alter the electronic properties of a material -- for example, changing it from a conductor to a semiconductor -- just by changing the laser beam's polarization. Normally, to produce such dramatic changes in a material's properties, "you have to do something violent to it," Gedik says. "But in this case, it may be possible to do this just by shining light on it. That actually modifies how electrons move in this system. And when we do this, the light does not even get absorbed."

In other situations, light can modify a material's behavior -- but only when it's absorbed, transferring its energy to the material. In this experiment, Gedik says, the light's energy is below the absorption threshold. This is exciting, he says, because it opens up the possibility of switching a material's behavior back and forth without inducing other effects, such as heating -- which would happen if the light were absorbed.

It will take some time to assess possible applications, Gedik says. But, he suggests, this could be a way of engineering materials for specific functions. "Suppose you want a material to do something -- to conduct electricity, or to be transparent, for example. We usually do this by chemical means. With this new method, it may be possible to do this by simply shining light on the materials."

For example, a property called a bandgap -- a crucial characteristic for materials used in computer chips and solar cells -- can be altered by shining a polarized laser beam at the material, Wang says. "You can directly change it, open the bandgap, just with light. It means you can change it from a metal to a semiconductor, for example," he says.

Gedik says that while this experiment was done using bismuth selenide crystals, a basic topological insulator, "what we have done is not specific to topological insulators. It should also be realizable in other materials as well, such as graphene."

"In solid-state physics, we often have no other choice but to rely on serendipity when looking for interesting materials," Galitski says. The new MIT findings "partially challenge this fundamental paradigm by experimentally demonstrating that one can control at will the band structure of a material by subjecting it to an intense optical pulse."

In addition to Gedik and Wang, the team included Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor in Contemporary Technology, and visiting scientist Hadar Steinberg, both of MIT's physics department. The work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Army Research Office, and made use of shared facilities at the MIT Center for Materials Science.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The original article was written by David L. Chandler. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Y. H. Wang, H. Steinberg, P. Jarillo-Herrero, and N. Gedik. Observation of Floquet-Bloch States on the Surface of a Topological Insulator. Science, 25 October 2013: 453-457 DOI: 10.1126/science.1239834

Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Persuading light to mix it up with matter." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131024143315.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2013, October 24). Persuading light to mix it up with matter. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131024143315.htm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Persuading light to mix it up with matter." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131024143315.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Lithium Battery 'Holy Grail' Could Provide 4 Times The Power

Lithium Battery 'Holy Grail' Could Provide 4 Times The Power

Newsy (July 28, 2014) Stanford University published its findings for a "pure" lithium ion battery that could have our everyday devices and electric cars running longer. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming

AP (July 28, 2014) AP Investigation: As the Obama administration weans the country off dirty fuels, energy companies are ramping-up overseas coal exports at a heavy price. (July 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shipping Crates Get New 'lease' On Life

Shipping Crates Get New 'lease' On Life

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 25, 2014) Shipping containers have been piling up as America imports more than it exports. Some university students in Washington D.C. are set to get a first-hand lesson in recycling. Their housing is being built using refashioned shipping containers. Lily Jamali reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

AFP (July 25, 2014) Europe's highest train, the little train of Artouste in the French Pyrenees, celebrates its 80th birthday. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
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