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An electromechanically reconfigurable plasmonic metamaterial operating in the near-infrared

An Erratum to this article was published on 04 June 2014

This article has been updated


Current efforts in metamaterials research focus on attaining dynamic functionalities such as tunability, switching and modulation of electromagnetic waves1. To this end, various approaches have emerged, including embedded varactors2, phase-change media3,4, the use of liquid crystals5,6, electrical modulation with graphene7,8 and superconductors9, and carrier injection or depletion in semiconductor substrates10,11. However, tuning, switching and modulating metamaterial properties in the visible and near-infrared range remain major technological challenges: indeed, the existing microelectromechanical solutions used for the sub-terahertz12 and terahertz13,14,15 regimes cannot be shrunk by two to three orders of magnitude to enter the optical spectral range. Here, we develop a new type of metamaterial operating in the optical part of the spectrum that is three orders of magnitude faster than previously reported electrically reconfigurable metamaterials. The metamaterial is actuated by electrostatic forces arising from the application of only a few volts to its nanoscale building blocks—the plasmonic metamolecules—that are supported by pairs of parallel strings cut from a flexible silicon nitride membrane of nanoscale thickness. These strings, of picogram mass, can be driven synchronously to megahertz frequencies to electromechanically reconfigure the metamolecules and dramatically change the transmission and reflection spectra of the metamaterial. The metamaterial's colossal electro-optical response (on the order of 10−5–10−6 m V−1) allows for either fast continuous tuning of its optical properties (up to 8% optical signal modulation at up to megahertz rates) or high-contrast irreversible switching in a device only 100 nm thick, without the need for external polarizers and analysers.

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Figure 1: Electrically reconfigurable photonic metamaterial.
Figure 2: Reversible electro-optical tuning and modulation.
Figure 3: Megahertz bandwidth electro-optical modulator.
Figure 4: High-contrast, non-volatile electro-optical switch.

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Change history

  • 22 March 2013

    In the version of this Letter originally published online, in the equation on page 2 the extent of the square root was incorrect. This has now been corrected in all versions of the Letter.

  • 15 May 2014

    In the version of this Letter originally published, in Fig. 4e, the position of the pink curve was incorrect. This has now been corrected in the online versions of the Letter.


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The authors thank Wei Ting Chen for assistance with metamaterial fabrication. This work is supported by the Leverhulme Trust, the Royal Society, the US Office of Naval Research (grant N000141110474), DSTL (UK), the MOE Singapore (grant MOE2011-T3-1-005) and the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council through the Nanostructured Photonic Metamaterials Programme Grant.

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N.I.Z. and E.P. conceived the idea for the experiment. J.Y.O. manufactured the sample and carried out the measurements. J.Z. simulated the nanostructure. All authors discussed the results and analysed the data. N.I.Z. and E.P. wrote the paper. N.I.Z. supervised the work.

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Correspondence to Eric Plum or Nikolay I. Zheludev.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Ou, JY., Plum, E., Zhang, J. et al. An electromechanically reconfigurable plasmonic metamaterial operating in the near-infrared. Nature Nanotech 8, 252–255 (2013).

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