IBM silicon nanophotonics chipA cross-sectional view of an IBM silicon nanophotonics chip combining optical and electrical circuits. (Credit: IBM)

Scientists have dreamed of building nanoscale devices that manipulate light the same way digital devices control electricity. Over the past decade, they have made impressive strides in reaching that goal. Today, there are nanoscale structures that scatter, refract, filter, slow, trap and otherwise manipulate light. Researchers have combined these structures to create nanophotonic counterparts of integrated circuits, as well as more efficient solar cells, ultra-small lasers and sensors, and more powerful optical microscopes. One of the key breakthroughs has been a growing ability to control light waves that measure in the hundreds of nanometers using structures measured in the tens of nanometers. Scientists once thought that it was impossible to manipulate light using such small assemblies. At the nanoscale, however, these structures interact with larger light waves in unusual ways. One approach takes advantage of plasmons, waves of electrons that absorb light as they roll across a metal's surface. Tapping electrons also makes it easier to convert light, which is faster and carries more information, into electrons, which are easier to process digitally. By integrating light sensors and nanoscale lasers into silicon chips, researchers hope to create faster circuits for computers and networks. Plasmons also make it possible to view fragile objects, such as DNA, proteins and polymers, through optical microscopes. Researchers are also investigating such nanophotonic devices as nanoscale lasers, quantum dots for solar cells and optical materials for quantum computing.

Can Nanoscience Quench a Thirsty World?

Water press
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By harnessing the power of nanomaterials, three innovators—Meny Elimelech, Naomi Halas and Omar Yaghi—have developed ways to harvest water from air and make seawater fit to drink.

The Future of Nanoscience: Three Kavli Nanoscience Institute Directors Forecast the Field’s Future

Jan 09, 2015

The directors of three Kavli nanoscience institutes – Paul Alivisatos, Paul McEuen, and Nai-Chang Yeh – discuss what makes the nanoscale so important, the field’s grand challenges, safety challenges, and their thoughts on funding, training and the future.

2014 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience: A Discussion with Thomas Ebbesen, Stefan Hell and Sir John Pendry

Sep 07, 2014

The winners of the 2014 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience – Thomas Ebbesen, Stefan Hell and Sir John Pendry – discuss breaking the limits of what we can do with light and opening the door to possibilities ranging from optical computing to invisibility cloaks.

The Next Life of Silicon

Apr 04, 2014

We live in the Age of Silicon, yet silicon microprocessors have begun to show signs of age, and for all its flexibility, silicon may be part of the problem. Is silicon up for the challenge, or are we entering a new age? We invited five experts to discuss the future of silicon.

Nano Meets Astro: A Dialogue with MacArthur Recipients Michal Lipson and Nergis Mavalvala

Jan 02, 2011

A conversation with Michal Lipson of Cornell University and Nergis Mavalvala of MIT, 2010 MacArthur Fellowship winners, on the intersections between nanoscience and astrophysics.

Scaling Up: The Future of Nanoscience

Dec 16, 2010

In advance of the Kavli Futures Symposium, “Plenty of Room in the Middle: Nanoscience – The Next 50 Years,” four participants and extraordinary researchers -- David Awschalom, Angela Belcher, Don Eigler and Michael Roukes -- join in a roundtable discussion.


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