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Nanoscale radiative thermal switching via multi-body effects


Control of thermal transport at the nanoscale is of great current interest for creating novel thermal logic and energy conversion devices. Recent experimental studies have demonstrated that radiative heat transfer between macroscopic objects separated by nanogaps, or between nanostructures located in the far-field of each other, can exceed the blackbody limit. Here, we show that the radiative heat transfer between two coplanar SiN membranes can be modulated by factors as large as five by bringing a third planar object into close proximity of the membranes. Numerical modelling reveals that this modulation is due to a modification of guided modes (supported in the SiN nanomembranes) by evanescent interactions with the third object. This multi-body effect could offer an efficient pathway for active control of heat currents at the nanoscale.

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Fig. 1: Experimental platform to demonstrate active control of radiative heat currents.
Fig. 2: Measurement procedure and comparison of experimental results with computational predictions.
Fig. 3: Analysis of the physical mechanism responsible for switching of radiative heat currents.
Fig. 4: Demonstration of switching with gold-coated modulator.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request.

Code availability

An open source code SCUFF-EM ( was used to compute the Poynting flux resulting from thermal sources. COMSOL Multiphysics was used for calculating the field profile of guided modes and for modelling the temperature increase on receiver.


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P.R. and E.M. acknowledge support from the Army Research Office (grant no. W911NF-19-1-0279 (nanopositioning and modelling)) and the DOE-BES (award no. DE-SC0004871 (calorimetry and analysis)). We thank P. Ben-Abdallah for useful discussions and comments on this work. We acknowledge the Lurie Nanofabrication Facility for facilitating the fabrication of devices.

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Authors and Affiliations



D.T., E.M. and P.R. conceived the work. D.T. fabricated the devices and performed the experiments. L.Z. performed the calculations. The manuscript was written by D.T., L.Z., E.M. and P.R.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Edgar Meyhofer or Pramod Reddy.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Nanotechnology thanks Patrick Hopkins and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–6, discussion and ref. 1.

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Thompson, D., Zhu, L., Meyhofer, E. et al. Nanoscale radiative thermal switching via multi-body effects. Nat. Nanotechnol. 15, 99–104 (2020).

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