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Programmable plasmonic phase modulation of free-space wavefronts at gigahertz rates


Space-variant control of optical wavefronts is important for many applications in photonics, such as the generation of structured light beams, and is achieved with spatial light modulators. Commercial devices, at present, are based on liquid-crystal and digital micromirror technologies and are typically limited to kilohertz switching speeds. To realize significantly higher operating speeds, new technologies and approaches are necessary. Here we demonstrate two-dimensional control of free-space optical fields at a wavelength of 1,550 nm at a 1 GHz modulation speed using a programmable plasmonic phase modulator based on near-field interactions between surface plasmons and materials with an electrooptic response. High χ(2) and χ(3) dielectric thin films of either aluminium nitride or silicon-rich silicon nitride are used as an active modulation layer in a surface plasmon resonance configuration to realize programmable space-variant control of optical wavefronts in a 4 × 4 pixel array at high speed.

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Fig. 1: PPPM overview.
Fig. 2: Experimental set-up.
Fig. 3: Dynamic characterization.
Fig. 4: Space-variant modulation.

Data availability

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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This work was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), DARPA NLM, DARPA MOABB, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), the National Science Foundation (NSF) grants DMR-1707641, CBET-1704085, ECCS-1405234, ECCS-1644647, CCF-1640227 and ECCS-1507146, the NSF ERC CIAN, the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), the NSF’s NNCI San Diego Nanotechnology Infrastructure (SDNI), the Chip-Scale Photonics Testing Facility (CSPTF), Nano3, the Army Research Office (ARO) and the Cymer Corporation.

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Authors and Affiliations



A.S. designed and characterized the PPPM and experimental set-ups, with input from A.E. and Y.F. Device fabrication was performed by A.S. and F.V. Design feedback for high speed characterization and performance analysis was provided by S.P. A.S., A.E.A. and Y.F. wrote the manuscript with input from S.P. and F.V. Y.F. supervised the project.

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Correspondence to Alexei Smolyaninov.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information

Detailed analysis of the device’s wavelength and angular response.

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Smolyaninov, A., El Amili, A., Vallini, F. et al. Programmable plasmonic phase modulation of free-space wavefronts at gigahertz rates. Nat. Photonics 13, 431–435 (2019).

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