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Large optical nonlinearity of nanoantennas coupled to an epsilon-near-zero material

Nature Photonicsvolume 12pages7983 (2018) | Download Citation


The size and operating energy of a nonlinear optical device are fundamentally constrained by the weakness of the nonlinear optical response of common materials1. Here, we report that a 50-nm-thick optical metasurface made of optical dipole antennas coupled to an epsilon-near-zero material exhibits a broadband (400 nm bandwidth) and ultrafast (recovery time less than 1 ps) intensity-dependent refractive index n2 as large as −3.73 ± 0.56 cm2 GW−1. Furthermore, the metasurface exhibits a maximum optically induced refractive index change of ±2.5 over a spectral range of 200 nm. The inclusion of low-Q nanoantennas on an epsilon-near-zero thin film not only allows the design of a metasurface with an unprecedentedly large nonlinear optical response, but also offers the flexibility to tailor the sign of the response. Our technique removes a longstanding obstacle in nonlinear optics: the lack of materials with an ultrafast nonlinear contribution to refractive index on the order of unity. It consequently offers the possibility to design low-power nonlinear nano-optical devices with orders-of-magnitude smaller footprints.

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The authors acknowledge support from the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). I.D.L. acknowledges financial support from CONACyT (Ciencia Básica) grant no. 286150. M.Z.A. thanks S. Choudhary for discussions on the linewidth broadening mechanisms in a plasmonic system.

Author information


  1. Department of Physics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada

    • M. Zahirul Alam
    • , Sebastian A. Schulz
    • , Jeremy Upham
    •  & Robert W. Boyd
  2. Centre for Advanced Photonics and Process Analysis, Cork Institute of Technology, Cork, Ireland

    • Sebastian A. Schulz
  3. Tyndall National Institute, Cork, Ireland

    • Sebastian A. Schulz
  4. School of Engineering and Sciences, Tecnologico de Monterrey, Monterrey, NL, Mexico

    • Israel De Leon
  5. Institute of Optics and Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, USA

    • Robert W. Boyd


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I.D.L. conceived the idea and initiated the study. I.D.L., S.A.S., M.Z.A. and J.U. designed the sample. S.A.S. performed the FDTD simulations. S.A.S. and J.U. fabricated the sample. M.Z.A. performed all experiments and the corresponding data analysis, developed the numerical model to describe the nonlinear response, and wrote the first draft. All authors contributed to finalizing the manuscript. I.D.L. and R.W.B. supervised the project.

Competing interests

R.W.B. is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of KBN Optics, Pittsford NY.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Israel De Leon.

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  1. Supplementary Information

    Supporting theory and data; Supplementary Figures 1–10; Supplementary Table 1.

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