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Nanoscale Optical Switch Breaks Miniaturization Barrier

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Illustration of terahertz optical switches shows the vanadium dioxide nanoparticles coated with a "nanomesh" of smaller gold particles.

A new ultra-fast, ultra-small optical switch could speed the day when photons replace electrons in the innards of consumer products ranging from cellphones to automobiles.

Credit: Haglund Lab/Vanderbilt University

The development of an ultra-fast and ultra-small optical switch could lead to the proliferation of electronic devices that detect and control light. A team of scientists from Vanderbilt University worked with researchers from the University of Alabama-Birmingham and Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop the switch.

At one-500th the width of a human hair, the researchers say the optical device is much smaller than the current generation of optical switches. The optical switch can turn on and off trillions of times per second.

The team made the switch from an artificial material that consists of nanoscale particles of vanadium dioxide, a crystalline solid that can rapidly switch back and forth between an opaque, metallic phase and a transparent, semiconducting phase. The researchers deposited the metamaterial on a glass substrate and coated it with a nanomesh of tiny gold nanoparticles.

The researchers note vanadium dioxide switches also are ideal because they are compatible with current integrated circuit technology, operate in a region of the spectrum optimal for telecommunications, and can be packed tightly due to low heat generation.

From Vanderbilt University
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Abstracts Copyright © 2014 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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