Better integration of photonic and electronic components in nanoscale devices may now become possible, thanks to work by Khuong Phuong Ong and Hong-Son Chu from the A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing and their co-workers in Singapore and the US. From computer simulations, they have identified that the compound BiFeO3 has the potential to be used to efficiently couple light to electrical charges through light-induced electron oscillations known as plasmons. The researchers propose that this coupling could be activated, controlled and switched off, on demand, by applying an electrical field to an active plasmonic device based on this material. If such a device were realized on a very small footprint it would give scientists a versatile tool for connecting components that manipulate light or electric currents.
Many devices used in everyday life — whether they be televisions, mobile phones or barcode scanners — are based on the manipulation of electric currents and light. At the micro- and nano-scales, however, it is typically challenging to integrate electronic components with photonic components. At these small dimensions, the wavelengths of light become long relative to the size of the device. Consequently, the light waves are barely detectable by the device, just as passing waves simply roll past thin poles in a water body (see image).