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Controlled-reflectance surfaces with film-coupled colloidal nanoantennas


Efficient and tunable absorption is essential for a variety of applications, such as designing controlled-emissivity surfaces for thermophotovoltaic devices1, tailoring an infrared spectrum for controlled thermal dissipation2 and producing detector elements for imaging3. Metamaterials based on metallic elements are particularly efficient as absorbing media, because both the electrical and the magnetic properties of a metamaterial can be tuned by structured design4. So far, metamaterial absorbers in the infrared or visible range have been fabricated using lithographically patterned metallic structures2,5,6,7,8,9, making them inherently difficult to produce over large areas and hence reducing their applicability. Here we demonstrate a simple method to create a metamaterial absorber by randomly adsorbing chemically synthesized silver nanocubes onto a nanoscale-thick polymer spacer layer on a gold film, making no effort to control the spatial arrangement of the cubes on the film. We show that the film-coupled nanocubes provide a reflectance spectrum that can be tailored by varying the geometry (the size of the cubes and/or the thickness of the spacer). Each nanocube is the optical analogue of a grounded patch antenna, with a nearly identical local field structure that is modified by the plasmonic response of the metal’s dielectric function, and with an anomalously large absorption efficiency that can be partly attributed to an interferometric effect10. The absorptivity of large surface areas can be controlled using this method, at scales out of reach of lithographic approaches (such as electron-beam lithography) that are otherwise required to manipulate matter on the nanoscale.

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Figure 1: Forming an ideal absorber.
Figure 2: Theoretical absorption efficiency of the nanocubes.
Figure 3: Silver nanocubes.
Figure 4: Tunability of the reflectance.


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This work was supported by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research (grant no. FA9550-09-1-0562) and by the US Army Research Office through a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (grant no. W911NF-09-1-0539). Additional support includes US NIH grant R21EB009862, to A.C., and US NIH F32 award (F32EB009299), to R.T.H.

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Authors and Affiliations



A.M. and C.C. ran the simulations. A.M., C.C., J.J.M. and D.R.S. conducted the physical analysis. Q.W. fabricated and characterized the nanocubes. R.T.H. made the substrates (gold and polyelectrolyte layers), measured their characteristics and deposited the cubes. J.J.M. built the experimental set-up and made the measurements. All the authors provided technical and scientific insight and contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to David R. Smith.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Figures 1-8 and a Supplementary Discussion. The Supplementary Figures give experimental results regarding the independency of the absorption with respect to the polarization or the incidence angle. The Supplementary Discussion gives detailed explanations for the physical mechanisms of the absorption, the critical density theoretically required for ideal absorption, the size dispersion of the cubes and how it is taken into account and the definition of the effective cross section. (PDF 283 kb)

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Moreau, A., Ciracì, C., Mock, J. et al. Controlled-reflectance surfaces with film-coupled colloidal nanoantennas. Nature 492, 86–89 (2012).

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