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Image of an actively reconfigurable hyperbolic metasurface device device and experimental schematic, courtesy of the researchers.

By Alan Flurry

The transfer of energy, as light or information, from one point to another is a big part of the science behind the phone in your hand and the images on your screen. Manipulating light wavelengths to transmit information represents the next frontier in optoelectronics, though many obstacles remain. Among the primary challenges in using light for information processing is the difficulty of squeezing light to very small space to fit in ever-shrinking semiconductor technology, adding to the enormous challenge to control and manipulate it at small length scales down to a single photon.

A new study published in Nature Communications describes one of the latest developments in nanoscale quantum materials in the quest for small, and controllable, confined light-matter interaction.

The focus of the paper is hyperbolic metasurfaces, artificial materials capable of shortening light wavelengths to the point where small computer chips and other devices can manipulate that light to transmit information.

“One of the main challenges in such small-scale light manipulating devices is the difficulty to even investigate such materials,” said Yohannes Abate, associate professor of physics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of physics and astronomy. Advanced imaging tools being developed by Abate’s group at UGA allow unprecedented confinement of long wavelength light to very small volume enabling access to study metasurfaces.

“We achieve light confinement by focusing light to a needle-like probe that has a very small diameter. This confined light allows us to see small structures that the best lens-based microscope cannot resolve,” Abate said.

These results reported by Abate’s group are the first works showing manipulation and control of confined and traveling mix of light and matter. The results open numerous opportunities to steer, alter and guide light in optoelectronic and quantum devices.

Co-authors on the study include faculty from the department of mechanical engineering, the Interdisciplinary Science Program and the department of physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt University; and the department of chemical engineering, Kansas State University.

The full study, Reconfigurable infrared hyperbolic metasurfaces using phase change materials, is available at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-06858-y.