Letter | Published:

Active terahertz metamaterial devices

Naturevolume 444pages597600 (2006) | Download Citation



The development of artificially structured electromagnetic materials, termed metamaterials, has led to the realization of phenomena that cannot be obtained with natural materials1. This is especially important for the technologically relevant terahertz (1 THz = 1012 Hz) frequency regime; many materials inherently do not respond to THz radiation, and the tools that are necessary to construct devices operating within this range—sources, lenses, switches, modulators and detectors—largely do not exist. Considerable efforts are underway to fill this ‘THz gap’ in view of the useful potential applications of THz radiation2,3,4,5,6,7. Moderate progress has been made in THz generation and detection8; THz quantum cascade lasers are a recent example9. However, techniques to control and manipulate THz waves are lagging behind. Here we demonstrate an active metamaterial device capable of efficient real-time control and manipulation of THz radiation. The device consists of an array of gold electric resonator elements (the metamaterial) fabricated on a semiconductor substrate. The metamaterial array and substrate together effectively form a Schottky diode, which enables modulation of THz transmission by 50 per cent, an order of magnitude improvement over existing devices10.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Veselago, V. G. The electrodynamics of substances with simultaneously negative values of ε and μ. Sov. Phys. Usp. 10, 509–514 (1968)

  2. 2

    Oliveira, F. et al. Neural network analysis of terahertz spectra of explosives and bio-agents. Proc. SPIE 5070, 60–70 (2003)

  3. 3

    Zimdars, D. Fiber-pigtailed terahertz time domain spectroscopy instrumentation for package inspection and security imaging. Proc. SPIE 5070, 108–116 (2003)

  4. 4

    Federici, J. F. et al. THz imaging and sensing for security applications—explosives, weapons and drugs. Semicond. Sci. Technol. 20, S266–S280 (2005)

  5. 5

    Barber, J. et al. Temperature-dependent far-infrared spectra of single crystals of high explosives using terahertz time-domain spectroscopy. J. Phys. Chem. A 109, 3501–3505 (2005)

  6. 6

    Liu, H-B., Chen, Y., Bastiaans, G. J. & Zhang, X-C. Detection and identification of explosive RDX by THz diffuse reflection spectroscopy. Opt. Express 14, 415–423 (2006)

  7. 7

    Kawase, K., Ogawa, Y., Watanabe, Y. & Inoue, H. Non-destructive terahertz imaging of illicit drugs using spectral fingerprints. Opt. Express 11, 2549–2554 (2003)

  8. 8

    Ferguson, B. & Zhang, X-C. Materials for terahertz science and technology. Nature Mater. 1, 26–33 (2002)

  9. 9

    Köhler, R. et al. Terahertz semiconductor-heterostructure laser. Nature 417, 156–159 (2002)

  10. 10

    Kleine-Ostmann, T., Dawson, P., Pierz, K., Hein, G. & Koch, M. Room-temperature operation of an electrically driven terahertz modulator. Appl. Phys. Lett. 84, 3555–3557 (2004)

  11. 11

    Smith, D. R., Padilla, W. J., Vier, D. C., Nemat-Nasser, S. C. & Schultz, S. Composite medium with simultaneously negative permeability and permittivity. Phys. Rev. Lett. 84, 4184–4187 (2000)

  12. 12

    Shelby, R. A., Smith, D. R. & Schultz, S. Experimental verification of a negative index of refraction. Science 292, 77–79 (2001)

  13. 13

    Pendry, J. B., Holden, A. J., Stewart, W. J. & Youngs, I. Extremely low frequency plasmons in metallic mesostructures. Phys. Rev. Lett. 76, 4773–4776 (1996)

  14. 14

    Pendry, J. B., Holden, A. J., Robbins, D. J. & Stewart, W. J. Magnetism from conductors and enhanced nonlinear phenomena. IEEE Trans. Microwave Theory Tech. 47, 2075–2084 (1999)

  15. 15

    Pendry, J. B. Negative refraction makes a perfect lens. Phys. Rev. Lett. 85, 3966–3969 (2000)

  16. 16

    Pendry, J. B., Schurig, D. & Smith, D. R. Controlling electromagnetic fields. Science 312, 1780–1782 (2006)

  17. 17

    Leonhardt, U. Optical conformal mapping. Science 312, 1777–1780 (2006)

  18. 18

    Zhang, S. et al. Experimental demonstration of near-infrared negative-index metamaterials. Phys. Rev. Lett. 95, 137404 (2005)

  19. 19

    Zhou, J. et al. Saturation of the magnetic response of split-ring resonators at optical frequencies. Phys. Rev. Lett. 95, 223902 (2005)

  20. 20

    Grigorenko, A. N. et al. Nanofabricated media with negative permeability at visible frequencies. Nature 438, 335–338 (2005)

  21. 21

    Yen, T. J. et al. Terahertz magnetic response from artificial materials. Science 303, 1494–1496 (2004)

  22. 22

    Padilla, W. J., Taylor, A. J., Highstrete, C., Lee, M. & Averitt, R. D. Dynamical electric and magnetic metamaterial response at terahertz frequencies. Phys. Rev. Lett. 96, 107401 (2006)

  23. 23

    Wang, K. & Mittleman, D. M. Metal wires for terahertz wave guiding. Nature 432, 376–379 (2004)

  24. 24

    Mendis, R. & Grischkowsky, D. THz interconnect with low-loss and low-group velocity dispersion. IEEE Microwave Wireless Compon. Lett. 11, 444–446 (2001)

  25. 25

    Kersting, R., Strasser, G. & Unterrainer, K. Terahertz phase modulator. Electron. Lett. 36, 1156–1158 (2000)

  26. 26

    Schurig, D., Mock, J. J. & Smith, D. R. Electric-field-coupled resonators for negative permittivity metamaterials. Appl. Phys. Lett. 88, 041109 (2006)

  27. 27

    Ikonen, P. & Tretyakov, S. Generalized permeability function and field energy density in artificial magnetics. Preprint at 〈http://arxiv.org/abs/physics/0602182〉 (2006)

  28. 28

    Grischkowsky, D., Keiding, S., van Exter, M. & Fattinger Far-infrared time-domain spectroscopy with terahertz beams of dielectrics and semiconductors. J. Opt. Soc. Am. B 7, 2006–2015 (1990)

  29. 29

    O’Hara, J. F., Zide, J. M. O., Gossard, A. C., Taylor, A. J. & Averitt, R. D. Enhanced terahertz detection via ErAs:GaAs nanoisland superlattices. Appl. Phys. Lett. 88, 251119 (2006)

Download references


We acknowledge support from the Los Alamos National Laboratory LDRD programme, and from the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies.

Author information

Author notes

    • Willie J. Padilla

    Present address: Department of Physics, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, 02467, USA

    • Richard D. Averitt

    Present address: Department of Physics, Boston University, 590 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts, 02215, USA

  1. Hou-Tong Chen and Willie J. Padilla: These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies, Materials Physics & Applications Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico, 87545, USA

    • Hou-Tong Chen
    • , Willie J. Padilla
    • , Antoinette J. Taylor
    •  & Richard D. Averitt
  2. Applications Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory

    • Hou-Tong Chen
    • , Willie J. Padilla
    • , Antoinette J. Taylor
    •  & Richard D. Averitt
  3. Materials Department, University of California, Santa Barbara, California, 93106, USA

    • Joshua M. O. Zide
    •  & Arthur C. Gossard


  1. Search for Hou-Tong Chen in:

  2. Search for Willie J. Padilla in:

  3. Search for Joshua M. O. Zide in:

  4. Search for Arthur C. Gossard in:

  5. Search for Antoinette J. Taylor in:

  6. Search for Richard D. Averitt in:

Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hou-Tong Chen.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Figures

    This file contains Supplementary Figures 1–2. (PDF 72 kb)

About this article

Publication history



Issue Date



Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.