Noble metal nanowires: from plasmon waveguides to passive and active devices

Acc Chem Res. 2012 Nov 20;45(11):1887-95. doi: 10.1021/ar300133j. Epub 2012 Oct 26.


Using chemical synthesis, researchers can produce noble metal nanowires with highly regular, crystalline properties unachievable by alternative, top-down nanofabrication methods. Sitting at the intersection of nanochemistry and nanooptics, noble metal nanowires have generated intense and growing research interest. These nanostructures combine subwavelength transverse dimensions (50-100 nm) and longitudinal dimensions that can reach tens of micrometers or more, which makes them an ideal platform to launch surface plasmon waves by direct illumination of one end of the structure. Because of this property, researchers are using noble metal nanowires as a tool for fundamental studies of subwavelength plasmon-based optics and the properties of surface plasmon guided wave propagation in highly confined geometries below the classical optical diffraction limit. In this Account, we review some of the recent developments in plasmonic nanowire fabrication, nanowire plasmon imaging, and nanowire optical components and devices. The addition of an adjacent nanowire, substrate, or other symmetry-breaking defect can enable the direct coupling of light to and from free space to the guided waves on a nanowire structure. Such structures lead to more complex nanowire-based geometries with multiple optical inputs and outputs. Additional nanowire imaging methods are also possible: plasmon propagation on nanowires produces intense near-field diffraction, which can induce fluorescence in nearby quantum dots or photobleach adjacent molecules. When the nanowire is deposited on a dielectric substrate, the plasmon propagation along chemically synthesized nanowires exceeds 10 μm, which makes these structures useful in nonlocal applications such as remote surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) sensing. Nanowires can be used as passive optical devices, which include, for example, polarization manipulators, linear polarization rotators, or even broadband linear-to-circular polarization converters, an optical function not yet achievable with conventional diffraction-limited optical components. Nanowires can also serve as highly directional broadband optical antennas. When assembled into networks, plasmonic nanowires can be used to create optical devices, such as interferometric logic gates. Individual nanowires function as multiple input and output terminals in branched network geometries, where light incident on one wire can turn the emission from one or more output wires on or off. Nanowire-based devices that could exploit this effect include nanoscale routers and multiplexers, light modulators, and a complete set of Boolean logic functions.