Eliminating material constraints for nonlinearity with plasmonic metamaterials

Nat Commun. 2015 Jul 21;6:7757. doi: 10.1038/ncomms8757.


Nonlinear optical materials comprise the foundation of modern photonics, offering functionalities ranging from ultrafast lasers to optical switching, harmonic and soliton generation. Optical nonlinearities are typically strong near the electronic resonances of a material and thus provide limited tuneability for practical use. Here we show that in plasmonic nanorod metamaterials, the Kerr-type nonlinearity is not limited by the nonlinear properties of the constituents. Compared with gold's nonlinearity, the measured nonlinear absorption and refraction demonstrate more than two orders of magnitude enhancement over a broad spectral range that can be engineered via geometrical parameters. Depending on the metamaterial's effective plasma frequency, either a focusing or defocusing nonlinearity is observed. The ability to obtain strong and fast optical nonlinearities in a given spectral range makes these metamaterials a flexible platform for the development of low-intensity nonlinear applications.