van der Waals interactions at the nanoscale: the effects of nonlocality

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Dec 30;111(52):18422-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1420551111. Epub 2014 Dec 2.


Calculated using classical electromagnetism, the van der Waals force increases without limit as two surfaces approach. In reality, the force saturates because the electrons cannot respond to fields of very short wavelength: polarization charges are always smeared out to some degree and in consequence the response is nonlocal. Nonlocality also plays an important role in the optical spectrum and distribution of the modes but introduces complexity into calculations, hindering an analytical solution for interactions at the nanometer scale. Here, taking as an example the case of two touching nanospheres, we show for the first time, to our knowledge, that nonlocality in 3D plasmonic systems can be accurately analyzed using the transformation optics approach. The effects of nonlocality are found to dramatically weaken the field enhancement between the spheres and hence the van der Waals interaction and to modify the spectral shifts of plasmon modes.

Keywords: nonlocality; plasmonics; transformation optics; van der Waals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't