Near-Field Interference for the Unidirectional Excitation of Electromagnetic Guided Modes

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Science  19 Apr 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6130, pp. 328-330
DOI: 10.1126/science.1233739

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Controlling Light Propagation

Surface plasmons are light-induced collective electronic excitations in a metal that offer the possibility of manufacturing optoelectronic devices at nanometer scale. Before such shrinking can be achieved, the propagation direction and lifetime of the plasmonic excitations have to be controlled (see the Perspective by Miroshnichenko and Kivshar). Rodríguez-Fortuño et al. (p. 328) show how this is done using polarized light. Alternatively, using an array of metallic nanoantennae (in this case, slits) patterned into a thin gold film, Lin et al. (p. 331) present a further improvement on current plasmonic coupling schemes that has the potential to encode information contained in both the intensity and polarization of light.


Wave interference is a fundamental manifestation of the superposition principle with numerous applications. Although in conventional optics, interference occurs between waves undergoing different phase advances during propagation, we show that the vectorial structure of the near field of an emitter is essential for controlling its radiation as it interferes with itself on interaction with a mediating object. We demonstrate that the near-field interference of a circularly polarized dipole results in the unidirectional excitation of guided electromagnetic modes in the near field, with no preferred far-field radiation direction. By mimicking the dipole with a single illuminated slit in a gold film, we measured unidirectional surface-plasmon excitation in a spatially symmetric structure. The surface wave direction is switchable with the polarization.

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