Fast and highly efficient modulators as well as detectors for light are the core components of data transmission through fibre optic cables. In recent years, those building blocks for telecommunications based on existing optical materials have been constantly improved, but now it is getting increasingly difficult to achieve further improvements. That takes the combined forces of different specializations, as two research groups at ETH Zurich have now shown.
A group of scientists led by professors Jürg Leuthold of the Institute for Electromagnetic Fields and Lukas Novotny of the Institute for Photonics, together with colleagues at the National Institute for Material Science in Tsukuba (Japan), have developed an extremely fast and sensitive light detector based on the interplay between novel two-dimensional materials and nano-photonic optical waveguides. Their results were recently published in the scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology.
“In our detector we wanted to exploit the advantages of different materials whilst overcoming their individual constraints,” explains Nikolaus Flöry, a PhD student in Novotny’s group. “The best way of doing so is to fabricate a kind of artificial crystal – also known as heterostructure – from different layers that are each only a few atoms thick. Moreover, we were interested to know whether all the buzz about such two-dimensional materials for practical applications is actually justified.”
In two-dimensional materials, such as graphene, electrons only move in a plane rather than three spatial dimensions. This profoundly alters their transport properties, for instance when an electrical voltage is applied. While graphene is not the ideal choice for optics applications, compounds of transition metals such as molybdenum or tungsten and chalcogenes such as sulphur or tellurium (abbreviated as TMDC) are highly photosensitive and, on top of that, can be easily combined with silicon optical waveguides.
Interplay of different approaches