Researchers Discuss What a Little Light Can Do at Nanophotonics Symposium

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Luca Dal Negro delivers his lecture on silicon-based nanomaterials and plasmonic structures at the Nanophotonics Symposium
Luca Dal Negro delivers his lecture on silicon-based nanomaterials and plasmonic structures at the Nanophotonics Symposium

    Bright minds in the field of nanophotonics recently gathered to discuss advances in research and their potential impact in technology, medicine and basic sciences at a symposium sponsored by Boston University’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanobiotechnology (CNN).
    More than 120 guests from academia and industry attended the CNN’s annual symposium on May 16 at the Photonics Center to hear distinguished lecturers from Japan, researchers from Boston University and experts from area universities discuss topics in nanophotonics. Events such as this are important for exchanging ideas and forming collaborations in this rapidly growing interdisciplinary field, said CNN Deputy Director Mario Cabodi. The CNN’s mission is to create a physical and intellectual infrastructure to advance nanotechnology research at Boston University and serve as a hub connecting BU researchers in disparate fields to each other and to the local scientific community. 
    From the fundamental interaction of light with matter to specific applications in plasmonics and metamaterials, the field of nanophotonics — the study of how light interacts with nanoscale objects – holds potential for advances in telecommunications, computing, imaging and basic science research. Nanophotonics researchers strive to manipulate and exploit light’s interaction with other photons, metals or dielectrics — non-metals – to increase the speed and capacity of optical fibers or surpass what was thought to be a fundamental limit to microscopic observations, the diffraction limit.
    Bennett Goldberg, chairman of the BU Physics Department and CNN director, prefaced the day’s speakers with a historical view of nano-optics. Coupling nanoscale objects – apertures, tips or antennas – with incoming light allows researchers today to get beyond the diffraction limit, about half the wavelength of light. This manipulation of light on a nano-scale has only recently become possible, said Goldberg, with the semiconductor industry driving advances in nanofabrication.
    Toshihiko Baba, professor at Yokohama National University, and Lasers and Electro-Optics Society (LEOS) Distinguished Lecturer, discussed his work using photonic crystals for several projects including development of a nanolaser and slow light waveguides.
    Photonic crystals, often made of silicon, trap light like a mouse in a maze. Regular, patterned structures act like pathways on the crystal, dictating where light can travel. Baba uses these advanced versions of waveguides to force light to move in one direction or another and to slow down incoming light pulses.
    Masaya Notomi, associate professor of Tokyo Institute of Technology and researcher at Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Basic Research Laboratories, detailed his work with photonic crystals to keep light trapped in tiny spaces. This allows him to “tune” the light – changing its surroundings to change the wavelength of the light itself – like twisting a guitar peg to change the note after plucking a string, he said.
    Hatice Altug, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at BU, presented her work using photon crystals to make high-speed lasers. Such technology could be used to create all-optical switching that could make for much faster computers in the future.
    Presenters also focused on the field of plasmonics – the study of light’s interaction with electrons in metal and other materials. Philippe Fauchet, distinguished professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Rochester, presented his work in developing biosensors using photonic crystal microcavities in silicon. Luca Dal Negro, BU assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, discussed the challenges of working with silicon to amplify light and create lasers. Additional topics in plasmonics, optics and nano-scale fabrication — presented by scientists from Harvard, MIT, Brown, and Northeastern University — kept symposium presenters and attendees talking about the many facets of nanophotonics throughout the day.
    A complete schedule of the recent nanophotonics symposium with links to talks and speakers’ biographies is available here.  The CNN will present their next annual symposium on topics in nanomedicine, and the Photonics Center will hold a symposium on light-based research and development in the field of photonics on June 8th, 2007.