Saturday, June 27, 2009

A cool result

There's a new asap paper in Nano Letters that is very slick. There has been a lot of interest in the last few years in plasmonics - the controlled manipulation of plasmons, collective oscillations of the electronic fluid in metals. Plasmons are pretty remarkable excitations. Because they involve displacement of the electron density, they necessarily result in local electric fields near metal surfaces (useful for optical antenna sorts of effects), and they can (under the right circumstances) couple efficiently to electromagnetic radiation. Plasmon response to light can be very pronounced, ranging from resonant scattering or absorption (for example, why certain types of glass are colored) to more complex dispersive effects, including negative (effective) indices of refraction. Plasmons are also responsible for helping light to transmit through sub-wavelength apertures. However, as far as I know, until now none of these effects have depended in any significant way on the angular momentum of light. In this new result, researchers from the Technion in Israel have designed aperture structures that can couple selectively to left- or right-circularly polarized light. The trick is in finding a situation such that the angular momentum of the light (essentially the spin of the photons) couples selectively to plasmon modes in the apertures that have matching orbital angular momentum. I don't fully understand how the two experiments described in the paper work, but it's a neat, clever result.

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