Letter | Published:

Three-dimensional femtosecond laser nanolithography of crystals

Nature Photonicsvolume 13pages105109 (2019) | Download Citation


So far, nanostructuring of hard optical crystals has been exclusively limited to their surface, as stress-induced crack formation and propagation render high-precision volume processes ineffective1,2. Here, we show that the rate of nanopore chemical etching in the popular laser crystals yttrium aluminium garnet and sapphire can be enhanced by more than five orders of magnitude (from <0.6 nm h−1 to ~100 µm h−1) by the use of direct laser writing, before etching. The process makes it possible to produce arbitrary three-dimensional nanostructures with 100 nm feature sizes inside centimetre-scale laser crystals without brittle fracture. To showcase the potential of the technique we fabricate subwavelength diffraction gratings and nanostructured optical waveguides in yttrium aluminium garnet and millimetre-long nanopores in sapphire. The approach offers a pathway for transferring concepts from nanophotonics to the fields of solid-state lasers and crystal optics.

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The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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The work was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships EXTREMELIGHT project (grant agreement no. 747055). A.R. and R.O. acknowledge support from Laserlab-Europe (grant agreement no. 654148, European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme). G.C. and R.O. acknowledge support from the European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant programme (CAPABLE, grant agreement no. 742745). M.G. acknowledges support from the Australian Research Council (ARC) through the Discovery Project (DP170101775). S.J. acknowledges support from the US Department of Energy DOE-BES in a subcontract under award no. DE-FG02-06ER46347. A.K.K. acknowledges support from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/M015130/1 and EP/G037523/1).

Author information


  1. Istituto di Fotonica e Nanotecnologie, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Milan, Italy

    • Airán Ródenas
    • , Giacomo Corrielli
    • , Petra Paiè
    •  & Roberto Osellame
  2. Laboratory of Artificial-Intelligence Nanophotonics, School of Science, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

    • Min Gu
  3. Department of Physics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

    • Sajeev John
  4. Institute of Photonics and Quantum Sciences, David Brewster Building, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK

    • Ajoy K. Kar


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The investigation was carried out by A.R. Conceptualization was developed by A.R., M.G. and R.O. The methodology was developed by A.R., G.C., P.P. and R.O. Validation was performed by A.R., P.P. and G.C. Formal analysis was carried out by A.R. and S.J. Resources were provided by A.R. and R.O. The manuscript was written by A.R. and R.O., with review by all authors. Visualization was carried out by A.R. and G.C. Supervision was provided by A.R., M.G., S.J., A.K.K. and R.O.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Airán Ródenas.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Details of 3D etching and optical characterization of nanostructures

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