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Localization of light in a disordered medium


Among the unusual transport properties predicted for disordered materials is the Anderson localization1 phenomenon. This is a disorder-induced phase transition in the electron-transport behaviour from the classical diffusion regime, in which the well-known Ohm's law holds, to a localized state in which the material behaves as an insulator. The effect finds its origin in the interference of electrons that have undergone multiple scattering by defects in the solid2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10. A similar phenomenon is anticipated for multiple scattering of electromagnetic waves, but with one important simplification: unlike electrons, photons do not interact with one another. This makes transport of photons in disordered materials an ideal model system in which to study Anderson localization10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17. Here we report direct experimental evidence for Anderson localization of light in optical experiments performed on very strongly scattering semiconductor powders.

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Figure 1: Anderson localization of waves in disordered systems originates from interference in multiple elastic scattering.
Figure 2: Comparison of the temperature dependence of the transmission of pure GaAs crystals and powders.
Figure 3: Coherent backscattering cones from coarse-grained (a) and fine-grained (b) GaAs powder.
Figure 4: Comparison of the transmission coefficients for two GaAs powders with different average particle diameters.
Figure 5: The transmission coefficient of very fine GaAs powder as a function of thickness.


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We thank F. Bogani, M. Colocci, R. Torre and M. Gurioli for discussions, and M. Colocci also for supplying GaAs crystals. D.S.W. thanks M. van Albada for advice and continuous support during the experiments, and M. Brugmans for reading of the manuscript. A.L. was supported by the ‘Stichting voor Fundamenteel Onderzoek der Materie’ (FOM). This work was supported by the Commission of the European Community.

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Correspondence to Diederik S. Wiersma.

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Wiersma, D., Bartolini, P., Lagendijk, A. et al. Localization of light in a disordered medium. Nature 390, 671–673 (1997).

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