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A 3D Printhead with Single Atom Precision? Enter the Nanobeacon

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Single Atom NanostructureA source has tipped us off to a possible precursor for an “atomic precision” 3D printhead where the interaction of tailored light with a single atom and individual nanostructures combine to create remarkably accurate results.

At the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light, this approach is utilized to couple light to a single atom, or for that matter, to individual nano-particles. The research demonstrates that light can be coupled to an ion trapped within a parabolic mirror, and the upshot is a high efficiency, optimized polarized beam.

The researchers, led by Dr. Gerd Leuchs, say that as individual atoms, ions and molecules form the basic building blocks of matter, our perception of the tangible materials formed from such building blocks through their interaction with light is key to our ability to manipulate them.

Dr. Gerd Leuchs

Dr. Gerd Leuchs

Complex objects such as nanostructures can be built and manipulated by understanding specific interactions they have with a light field. The manipulations may well prove to serve as the basis for potential applications in biophysics or quantum information processing, and the individual nanostructures themselves may serve as “building blocks” to create metamaterials.

The process involves the creation of radially polarized light which is acutely focused. This incoming beam, which features a cylindrical symmetry, tracks across a path incident from right to left onto a lens. The focusing rotates the individual electric field vectors towards the optical axis, and they then interfere within the focal point to create an electric field component which oscillates along the optical axis.

The result is a tailored light where the precise shaping of the temporal and spatial distribution of the intensity of the light – and the polarization vector or direction of oscillation of the electric field – can then be concentrated to dimensions smaller than the wavelength of the light when focused onto a target object.

A radially polarized ring is focused with a parabolic mirror, and in this experiment, the researchers generated the tailored, radially polarized mode to an ideal field distribution down to 98%.standard_sans_right

The work uses a “singly charged ytterbium ion” as the atom, and the ions can be accurately positioned, and even “trapped” for varying periods using an electrode arrangement and an applied AC voltage. An ion trap was developed to the parabolic mirror geometry which effectively shadows the ion from the focused light with minimal interference.

MPI says the methodology has been successfully applied to the investigation of numerous nanostructures and nanoscopic objects to create metamaterials of extraordinary properties.

What it might mean is that, by “holding” a single atom with laser beams, it may well be possible to build a 3D printhead with singular atomic precision.standard_sans_left

With the aid of artificial materials, light can be guided around objects and reflections can be suppressed to form a “nanobeacon.” The researchers say such light sources pave the way for high-precision control of light propagation in a range of optical networks.

Do you forsee a coming say when 3D printers which feature precision down to the level of a single atom could be created using this nanobeacon technology? Let us know in the Nanobeacon forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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