Light Colours Changed Without Phase-matching

Created February 5, 2018
Applications and Research

One of the biggest challenges in developing integrated photonic circuits is to control the momentum of light. Colours of light travel at different speeds through a material but, in order for light to be converted between colours, it needs to have the same momentum or phase.


Many devices have been designed to momentum-match or phase-match light at various points throughout an integrated circuit. Now researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), together with collaborators from the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University, have developed a system to convert one wavelength of light into another without the need to phase-match. The research was published in Nature Communications.


“For any wavelength conversion process to be efficient, it has to be carefully designed to phase-match, and it only works at a single wavelength,” says Mark Loncar, the Tiantsai Lin Professor of Electrical Engineering at SEAS and senior author of the paper. “The devices shown in this work, in contrast, do not need to satisfy the phase-matching requirement, and can convert light in a broad colour range.”

The converter relies on a metasurface, consisting of an array of silicon nanostructures, integrated into a lithium niobate waveguide. The light passes through waveguide, interacting with the nanostructures along the way. The array of nanostructures act like a TV antenna – receiving the optical signal, manipulating its momentum and re-emitting it back into the waveguide.

“Unlike most metasurfaces, where light travels perpendicularly to the metasurface, here light interacts with the metasurface while being confined inside a waveguide,” explains Cheng Wang, co-first author of the paper and Postdoctoral Fellow at SEAS. “In this way, we take advantage of both the momentum control from the metasurface and a long interaction distance.”

The researchers demonstrated that they could double the frequency of a wavelength, converting near infrared colours to red, with high efficiency over a broad bandwidth.

“The integrated metasurface is distinct from other phase-matching mechanisms in that it provides a unidirectional optical momentum to couple optical energy from one to another colour components – while inhibiting the inverse process – which is critical for realising broadband nonlinear conversion,” adds Nanfang Yu, Assistant Professor of Applied Physics at Columbia and a co-senior author of the paper. “Future work will demonstrate broadband integrated photonic devices based on metasurfaces for realising other functions such as optical modulation.”

The research was co-first authored by Zhaoyi Li, and co-authored by Myoung-Hwan Kim, Xiao Xiong, Xi-Feng Ren, Guang-Can Guo, Nanfang Yu and Marko Loncar. It was supported by the US National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Young Faculty Award.

John Williamson

This article was written
by John Williamson

John Williamson is a freelance telecommunications, IT and military communications journalist. He has also written for national and international media, and been a telecoms advisor to the World Bank.