PerspectiveApplied Physics

Polarization Traffic Control for Surface Plasmons

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Science  19 Apr 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6130, pp. 283-284
DOI: 10.1126/science.1236154

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A stone thrown into water produces waves that evenly spread out in all directions along the surface, but the symmetry patterns of the propagating waves can be changed if, for example, two stones are thrown in at different places and times. Similarly, surface plasmon polaritons—electromagnetic waves bounded to a metal-dielectric interface—that are excited by different sources can also interfere with each other (1). These “surface plasmons,” as they are commonly called, inherit one important property from photons: They are polarized, which turns out to be important for controlling their interference. On page 331 of this issue, Lin et al. (2) demonstrate a somewhat unexpected property of surface plasmons. Carefully designed nanostructures can excite plasmons propagating in the direction uniquely defined by the type of polarization of the incident light. On page 328, Rodríguez-Fortuño et al. (3) show that near-field effects in the interference phenomena also allow unidirectional propagation of surface plasmons in a symmetric structure excited by circularly polarized light.