Compact nanomechanical plasmonic phase modulators

Nature Article Picture Authors: B. S. Dennis, M. I. Haftel, D. A. Czaplewski, D. Lopez, G. Blumberg and V. A. Aksyuk

Abstract: Highly confined optical energy in plasmonic devices is advancing miniaturization in photonics. However, for mode sizes approaching ≈10 nm, the energy increasingly shifts into the metal, raising losses and hindering active phase modulation. Here, we propose a nanoelectromechanical phase-modulation principle exploiting the extraordinarily strong dependence of the phase velocity of metal–insulator–metal gap plasmons on dynamically variable gap size. We experimentally demonstrate a 23-μm-long non-resonant modulator having a 1.5π rad range, with 1.7 dB excess loss at 780 nm. Analysis shows that by simultaneously decreasing the gap, length and width, an ultracompact-footprint π rad phase modulator can be realized. This is achieved without incurring the extra loss expected for plasmons confined in a decreasing gap, because the increasing phase-modulation strength from a narrowing gap offsets rising propagation losses. Such small, high-density electrically controllable components may find applications in optical switch fabrics and reconfigurable plasmonic optics.