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Disordered photonics

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Abstract

What do lotus flowers have in common with human bones, liquid crystals with colloidal suspensions, and white beetles with the beautiful stones of the Taj Mahal? The answer is they all feature disordered structures that strongly scatter light, in which light waves entering the material are scattered several times before exiting in random directions. These randomly distributed rays interfere with each other, leading to interesting, and sometimes unexpected, physical phenomena. This Review describes the physics behind the optical properties of disordered structures and how knowledge of multiple light scattering can be used to develop new applications. The field of disordered photonics has grown immensely over the past decade, ranging from investigations into fundamental topics such as Anderson localization and other transport phenomena, to applications in imaging, random lasing and solar energy.

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Figure 1: Photograph of the speckle pattern created by a random medium.
Figure 2: Samples that are used to study the multiple scattering of light, microwaves and sound waves.
Figure 3: Two-dimensional silicon wire patterns for solar applications, ranging from ordered (left), to quasi-crystalline and hyper-uniform (right).
Figure 4: Calculation, using the finite-element method, of the electric field inside a system of dielectric rods immersed in a gain medium, at both modest and high scattering strengths.
Figure 5: White beetle Cyphochilus generally occurring in south-east Asia.
Figure 6: Light scattering by a collection of scattering elements of different sizes.
Figure 7: Scattering experiments performed with quantum-entangled photon pairs provide more information than those performed with individual photons.

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Acknowledgements

The author thanks all individuals cited in this Review for their collaboration and sharing of material, and both current and former members of the optics of complex systems group at LENS for discussions. This work was supported by the European Network of Excellence on Nanophotonics for Energy Efficiency and ERC Advanced Grant PHOTBOTS.

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Wiersma, D. Disordered photonics. Nature Photon 7, 188–196 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nphoton.2013.29

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