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Compressed light could revolutionize nanotechnology

Researchers at UC Riverside have developed a real “magic wand” for taking color photos at the nanometer scale. Composed of a silver nanowire, it uses compressed light to exceed the limits of optical microscopes.

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Nanotechnology is so small that it is impossible to see the details. Even with the best optical microscopes, the resolution is limited to several hundred nanometers due to the light diffraction. It is necessary to resort to other methods such as the scanning tunneling microscope, which is why the carbon nanotubes are always photographed in gray.

A new imaging technique developed by researchers from the University of California at Riverside manages to use the light compressed to create detailed and color at the scale of nanometer. Their invention was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Researchers get a color image of a carbon nanotube by compressing light and then passing it through a spectrometer after passing through the nanotube. © UC Riverside

Pixels of just six nanometers

The light comes from a lamp halogen with a filament in tungsten. It is then compressed into a nanofil in silver with almost no diffusion nor reflection. The light is guided to the tip of the nanofil which measures five nanometers, then is projected in the shape of cone and crosses the object to be photographed. The spectra transmission and scattering are then measured to create a color pixel six nanometers in size. By scanning the area, the researchers thus manage to constitute a color photo.

Such a device can have important repercussions for nanotechnologies. For example, it will make it possible to examine the surface of nanomaterials, or the electronic circuits which are currently engraved at the nanometer scale in the processors. The possibility of obtaining color images could also inform the understanding of scientists in many other fields such as catalysis or quantum optics.

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