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Katherine Bourzac

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Optical Fibers Made of Metamaterials Should Be Superfast

Metamaterial fibers that carry both light and plasmons could speed up telecommunications.

  • April 17, 2009

Metamaterials can be designed to interact with light in strange ways. By carefully structuring metal arrays at the nanoscale, for example, physicists can cloak an object from microwaves, or make superlenses that focus in on objects too small to be seen with conventional optics.

Now physicists have made designs for metamaterial optical fibers. Conventional optical fibers carry telecommunications data and are important components of some sensors and medical equipment. Fibers made up of metamaterials could carry light in ways that aren’t possible using naturally existing materials. According to research published online this week in Nano Letters, metamaterial fibers could guide both light and plasmons, surface energy waves induced by photons. Plasmonic fibers, say the paper’s authors, could do what optical fibers do, but much faster, speeding telecommunications and making for faster sensors. While conventional optical fibers are made up of layers of glass, the metamaterials proposed this week would be made up of nano-patterned aluminum oxide and silver. The designs were made by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, and the Institute for Integrative Nanosciences at IFW Dresden, Germany.

These simulations show how light and plasmons would move through newly designed metamaterial fibers. The line drawings are ray diagrams; the colored circles show the intensity of light through the theoretical fibers’ cross sections. Credit: ACS/Nano Letters
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