Volume 589 Issue 7841, 14 January 2021

Photon avalanche

Photon avalanching is a nonlinear optical effect in which a material emits a disproportionately large number—an ‘avalanche’—of photons when illuminated above a threshold intensity. Until now, this phenomenon has been observed only in bulk materials and aggregates. In this week’s issue, James Schuck and his colleagues show that nanocrystals doped with thulium ions can individually give rise to photon avalanches. The researchers used their nanocrystals in single-beam, super-resolution imaging, achieving a spatial resolution below 70 nanometres. They note that their avalanching nanoparticles could find application in sub-wavelength imaging, optical and environmental sensing, and neuromorphic computing.

Cover image: Mikołaj Łukaszewicz.

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