+44 (0)24 7671 8970
More publications     •     Advertise with us     •     Contact us
News Article

Polymer-based material coating with tuneable optical properties


Researchers have developed a coating that can be used to create tuneable optical components, which could one day be used in optical signal processing, potentially enabling faster and more energy-efficient AI

Researchers from the University of Jena have developed a material coating whose light refraction properties can be precisely switched between different states. The scientists combined polymers that react to light with so-called meta-surfaces, and this innovation has led to the creation of new optical components with the potential to be used in signal processing. The interdisciplinary team, led by Felix Schacher, Sarah Walden, Purushottam Poudel, and Isabelle Staude, have now published their findings in the journal ACS Nano.

“Both meta-surfaces and light-switchable polymers have been known in principle for decades,” explains Sarah Walden from the Institute of Solid State Physics, who now leads a research group in Australia, “but we are the first to combine both in this form to develop new components for optical applications.”

Meta-surfaces are nanostructured thin layers whose characteristic structural sizes are smaller than the wavelength of light. This allows the properties of light and its propagation to be specifically influenced, enabling a variety of optical functions that would otherwise be performed by lenses, polarisers, or gratings. On the other hand, switchable polymers are plastics whose properties – such as the light refraction index – can change between different states.

“The polymers we used contain dye molecules,” Felix Schacher from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Macromolecular Chemistry continues. “This means that they absorb light of a certain wavelength and, in doing so, change their structure – and thus their properties, such as the refractive index of light in this case.”

To switch the dye back to its previous structure with the corresponding property, light of a different wavelength is required. “What's special about our system,” explains physicist Isabelle Staude, “is that the changes in refractive index affect the optical properties of the meta-surface when it is coated with such a polymer.”

The researchers say the changes achieved were surprisingly significant, even compared to previously known similar systems. “Because the polymers show different absorption depending on the dye, various effects can be very well separated from one another or combined,” Staude summarises.

Besides this promising result, the team also reported a surprising discovery: “In our work, we used two different dyes separately, each applied to a meta-surface. This confirmed the effect,” Schacher says. “However, when mixing both switchable polymers, additional effects occur. We suspect that the two different dye molecules interact with each other, but we cannot say for certain at this point.” Further investigations are needed to clarify this interesting behaviour.

Although the primary focus with these switchable surfaces was to demonstrate the basic principle, the research group envision several potential applications: “Since these surfaces can switch between different property states with light, sensor technology is a natural application area.”

It is also conceivable that such switchable surfaces could be used for optical data processing. “Of course, it would delight our team if these components could be used for optical neural networks, for example, which could then process image information in the same way that electronic artificial intelligence can now,” says Schacher. “However, because this type of data processing is based on light rather than electronics, it is significantly more energy-efficient and faster than traditional computer-based AI.”

Image credit: Jens Meyer (University of Jena)

Polymer-based material coating with tuneable optical properties
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology launches NanoEngineering programme
Skorpios Technologies announces additional funding to complete relocation
Quantum Computing Inc. announces new quantum optimisation machine
Microwave chip performs ultrafast signal processing
EU consortium invites design proposals for edge-AI technologies
On-chip optical tweezers combat antibiotic resistance
Incorporating quantum dots into nanowire arrays
Scintil integrates III-V DFB lasers and amplifiers with silicon
Vodafone and iPronics showcase photonic radio unit at Mobile World Congress
Artilux reports a milestone in germanium-silicon photonics technology
Aehr receives orders totalling $23 million for test and burn-in products
DustPhotonics raises $24 million in follow-on funding round
Kumamoto plant opening poised to shape Japan’s semiconductor landscape
Improved on-chip integration of single-photon sources
New compact light source achieves 224G per channel
Coherent CEO to step down
Chip uses light to perform calculations needed for AI
New technique enables efficient integration of III-V with silicon
BluGlass and Applied Energetics sign memorandum of understanding
University of Twente aims to scale photonic quantum computing
Amazec Photonics awarded €1.5 million for PIC-based medical tech
Cisco and Microsoft deliver 800G on Amitié Transatlantic Cable
SWIR photodetectors made of eco-friendly colloidal quantum dots
Physik Instrumente to add new facility in Massachusetts
Focuslight acquires SUSS MicroOptics
NGen announces funding for new advanced manufacturing projects
Mapping light propagation in a photonic chip
UK Government announces new funding for chips and quantum
Diamond microchiplet could pave the way for the quantum internet
Creating photonic chips with a laser printer
Photonic circuits used to model topological insulators

Search the news archive

To close this popup you can press escape or click the close icon.
Register - Step 1

You may choose to subscribe to the PIC Magazine, the PIC Newsletter, or both. You may also request additional information if required, before submitting your application.

Please subscribe me to:


You chose the industry type of "Other"

Please enter the industry that you work in:
Please enter the industry that you work in: