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Laser-like optical amplifier boosts output of captured light

Posted: 13 May 2016 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:tunable? nanoparticle? Rice University? optical parametric amplifier? infrared spectroscopy?

A new submicroscopic optical amplifier!the first of its kind!can not only generate infrared light, but also boost the output of one light by capturing and converting energy from a second light.

The amplifier was the latest innovation from Rice University's Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP). According to the team behind it, the device functions much like a laser, but while lasers have a fixed output frequency, the output from Rice's nanoscale "optical parametric amplifier" (OPA) can be tuned over a range of frequencies that includes a portion of the infrared spectrum.

light-amplifying nanoparticle

Figure 1: Rice University's new light-amplifying nanoparticle consists of a 190-nanometer diameter sphere of barium tin oxide surrounded by a 30-nanometer thick shell of gold. (Image by Yu Zhang /Rice University)

"Tunable infrared OPA light sources today cost around a $100,000 and take up a good bit of space on a tabletop or lab bench," said study lead author Yu Zhang, a former Rice graduate student at LANP. "What we've demonstrated, in principle, is a single nanoparticle that serves the same function and is about 400 nanometres in diameter."

By comparison, that's about 15 times smaller than a red blood cell, and Zhang said shrinking an infrared light source to such a small scale could open doors to new kinds of chemical sensing and molecular imaging that aren't possible with today's state-of-the-art nanoscale infrared spectroscopy.

Zhang, who earned his Ph.D. from Rice in 2014 and today works at Lam Research in Fremont, Calif., said parametric amplification has been used for decades in microelectronics. It involves two input signals, one weak and one strong, and two corresponding outputs. The outputs are also strong and weak, but the energy from the more powerful input!known as the "pump"!is used to amplify the weak incoming "signal" and make it the more powerful output. The low-power output!known as the "idler"!contains a residual fraction of the pump energy.

"Optical parametric amplifiers operate with light rather than electricity," said LANP Director Naomi Halas, the lead scientist on the new study and the director of Rice's Smalley-Curl Institute. "In OPAs, a strong pump light dramatically amplifies a weak 'seed' signal and generates an idler light at the same time. In our case, the pump and signal frequencies are visible, and the idler is infrared."

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