Optical communications, laser science, microscopy and metrology demand control of light polarization, which is also used as a probe of chemical and biological systems. Typically, certain polarization states of light are achieved using macroscopic anisotropic crystals. Metamaterials and metasurfaces have recently been developed to act as efficient passive polarization components of subwavelength dimensions1,2,3,4. However, active polarization control has so far been mainly limited to microwave and terahertz wavelengths5,6,7. Here, we demonstrate all-optical switching of visible light polarization, achieving up to 60° rotation of the polarization ellipse at picosecond timescales. This is accomplished both under control illumination and in a self-phase modulation regime, where the intensity of light affects its own polarization state, by exploiting the strong anisotropy and nonlinear response of a hyperbolic metamaterial3,8,9,10. The effects are general for any resonant, anisotropic, nonlinear nanoantennas and metasurfaces and are suited to numerous photonic applications and material characterization techniques where ultrafast polarization shaping is required.

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This work has been supported, in part, by the EPSRC (UK) and the ERC iPLASMM project (321268). A.V.Z. acknowledges support from the Royal Society and the Wolfson Foundation. G.A.W. acknowledges support from the EC FP7 project 304179 (Marie Curie Actions). F.J.R.-F. acknowledges financial support from the ERC-2016-StG-714151 PSINFONI project. R.M.C.-C acknowledges the support of CONACyT.

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Author notes

    • Nicolas Olivier

    Present address: Department of Physics, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK

    • Gregory A. Wurtz

    Present address: Department of Physics, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL, 32224, USA


  1. Department of Physics, King’s College London, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS, UK

    • Luke H. Nicholls
    • , Francisco J. Rodríguez-Fortuño
    • , Mazhar E. Nasir
    • , R. Margoth Córdova-Castro
    • , Nicolas Olivier
    • , Gregory A. Wurtz
    •  & Anatoly V. Zayats


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L.H.N., F.J.R.-F. and A.V.Z. developed the idea and designed the experiments. L.H.N., G.A.W. and N.O. performed the experiments. L.H.N. and F.J.R.-F. performed numerical simulations and data processing. M.E.N. and R.M.C.-C. fabricated the metamaterial samples. L.H.N., F.J.R.-F. and A.V.Z. wrote the manuscript. All authors commented on the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Luke H. Nicholls.

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