Nanophotonics, also known as “nano-optics,” refers to the study of the behavior of light on the nanometer scale and how light interacts with nanometer-scale objects.
Nanophotonics is a branch of optics, optical engineering, electrical engineering, and nanotechnology. Its other name, nano-optics, like the term “optics,” usually refers to situations that involve ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared light.
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Let’s tackle some basic nanophotonic-related terms first.
What Is a Nanometer?
A nanometer (nm) is 10⁻⁹ meter—one-thousandth of a micrometer or one-billionth of a meter. It is the scale with which we measure atoms and the molecules they make.
What Is a Nanometer Scale?
A nanometer scale is the means used to measure how light behaves and interacts with atomic objects.
What Are Real-World Applications of Nanophotonics?
Nanophotonics is used in various fields, including biochemistry, electrical engineering, and carbon-free energy. Here are a few examples of its real-world applications.
Optoelectronics and Microelectronics
Nanophotonics allows electrical engineers to squeeze light into a small volume so it can be absorbed and detected by a small detector. It lets them harness desirable properties, including low noise, high speed, and low voltage and power.
In optical communication, nanophotonics, through small lasers, lets light have a low threshold current for power efficiency and fast modulation for better data transmission.
Nanophotonics also helps with making integrated circuits via photolithography or exposure to light. It enables tiny transistors to focus light to form extremely sharp images, making it possible to make images much finer.
Nanophotonics also makes heat-assisted magnetic recording possible, increasing the data a magnetic disk drive can store.
Finally, miniaturization in optoelectronics, another application of nanophotonics, has improved production speed and cost.
Researchers have found ways to use nanophotonics to improve how solar cells absorb light. This discovery has led manufacturers to produce thinner solar cells, allowing more light to be absorbed and reducing production costs.
Controlled Release of Anti-Cancer Therapeutics
Nanophotonics can also aid in controlling and releasing anti-cancer therapeutics on demand.
Nanophotonics can create high peak intensities by creating hot spots (concentrated light spots) in nonlinear optics. It also allows sensitive spectroscopy measurements for single molecules in a hot spot.
Nanophotonics also helps in constructing so-called “superlens” that create more accurate images. In 1995, for instance, Roberto Guerra imaged a silicon grating with 50nm lines and spaces with illumination with a 650nm wavelength in the air.
Optical Data Storage
Nanophotonics can integrate into or separate components from recording media.
In 2002, Guerra demonstrated that the nano-optical structures of semiconductors exhibit band-gap shifts due to induced strain. The band-gap-engineered titanium dioxide created is used as a photoanode to produce hydrogen fuel from sunlight and water efficiently.
Silicon photonics is a subfield of nanophotonics that deals with controlling light and electrons. It is applied in mid-infrared and overtone spectroscopy, logic gates, and cryptography on a chip. One of the most valuable products of this field is a silicon nanostructure capable of efficiently generating electrical energy from solar light used for solar panels.
Nanophotonics can be used for biosensing or detecting specific diseases.
Nanophotonics enables nanoscale quantum optics, which is necessary for developing components for quantum communication and quantum computing. It is also helpful in quantum cryptography, the science of using quantum mechanical properties to perform cryptographic tasks and providing intrinsically secure and unbreakable code.
What Widely Used Products Were Produced Using Nanophotonics?
Some of the nanophotonic products we see daily today are:
- Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), typically used in light bulbs and other lighting fixtures
- Organic LEDs (OLEDs) generally employed to create the digital displays of devices, such as TV screens, computer monitors, and portable systems like smartphones and handheld game consoles
- Near field optics, used to measure magnetic fields at optical frequencies
- Photovoltaic cells, typically employed in providing electricity to parking meters, temporary traffic signs, emergency phones, radio transmitters, water irrigation pumps, stream-flow gauges, remote guard posts, and lighting for roadways
- Optical switches, generally employed in optical communications, networks, and microsystems
- Optical amplifiers employed in optical communication and laser physics
- Holographic memory that enables predictive analytics or artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, cloud storage provision, data warehousing, enterprise data centers, and archival of warm data and less critical operations
Nanophotonics makes it possible for biochemists, electrical engineers, and nanotechnologists to work with and harness the power of light to produce advanced processes and technological products.
- Nanophotonics or nano-optics refers to the study of the behavior of light on the nanometer scale and how light interacts with nanometer-scale objects.
- Nanophotonics is applied in optoelectronics and microelectronics, solar cells, the controlled release of anti-cancer therapeutics, spectroscopy, microscopy, optical data storage, band-gap engineering, silicon nanophotonics, medical devices, and quantum optics.
- Nanophotonics led to the production of LEDs, OLEDs, photovoltaic cells, and more.