Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have built a very simple nanoantenna that directs red and blue colours in opposite directions, even though the antenna is smaller than the wavelength of light. The findings – published in the online journal Nature Communications this week – can lead to optical nanosensors being able to detect very low concentrations of gases or biomolecules.
A structure that is smaller than the wavelength of visible light (390-770 nanometers) should not really be able to scatter light. But that is exactly what the new nanoantenna does. The trick employed by the Chalmers researchers is to build an antenna with an asymmetric material composition, creating optical phase shifts.
The antenna consists of two nanoparticles about 20 nanometers apart on a glass surface, one of silver and one of gold. Experiments show that the antenna scatters visible light so that red and blue colours are directed in opposite directions.
“The explanation for this exotic phenomenon is optical phase shifts,” says Timur Shegai, one of the researchers behind the discovery. “The reason is that nanoparticles of gold and silver have different optical properties, in particular different plasmon resonances. Plasmon resonance means that the free electrons of the nanoparticles oscillate strongly in pace with the frequency of the light, which in turn affects the light propagation even though the antenna is so small. “
“One example is optical sensors, where you can use plasmons to build sensors which are so sensitive that they can detect much lower concentrations of toxins or signalling substances than is possible today. This may involve the detection of single molecules in a sample, for example, to diagnose diseases at an early stage, which facilitates quick initiation of treatment.”
The results were presented at an international conference on optical nanosensors at Chalmers this week. Chalmers is one of the leading universities in nanoplasmonic biosensors, and 130 scientists from around the world are attending the conference.
The research has received financial support from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, the Swedish Research Council and the Göran Gustafsson Foundation.
For more information, please contact: Timur Shegai, PhD, bionanophotonics, +46 31 772 31 23, firstname.lastname@example.org Mikael Käll, Professor, bionanophotonics, +46 31 772 31 19, email@example.com
Contact: Christian Borg firstname.lastname@example.org 46-317-723-395 Swedish Research Council