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NEWS
New Material Best Ever At Splitting Light
June 19, 2018

Place a chunk of the clear mineral Iceland spar on top of an image and suddenly you’ll see double, thanks to a phenomenon called double refraction – a result of a quality of the crystal material called optical anisotropy. Beyond just a nifty trick, materials with optical anisotropy are vital for a variety of devices such as lasers, liquid-crystal displays, lens filters and microscopes.


Artist’s rendering of a new material that splits light more dramatically than any other substance on Earth. Image: Talia Spencer

Now, a team of scientists and engineers led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Southern California have created a crystal that has a higher degree of optical anisotropy than all other solid substances on earth – especially for infrared light. They described the new material in a paper published recently in the journal Nature Photonics.

“The optical anisotropy is enormous, making the material promising for a range of optics applications,” says Mikhail Kats, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison and one of the senior authors on the paper.

According to information, one especially promising use for the new crystal could be imaging and other types of remote sensing using the mid-infrared transparency window, an especially important range of wavelengths that penetrate Earth’s atmosphere with little distortion.

The new crystal has roughly 50 to 100 times greater optical birefringence – a metric of anisotropy – for mid-infrared light than has ever been measured before. That spectacular light-splitting ability comes from a unique molecular structure consisting of long chains of atoms arranged in parallel rows.

Using advanced computational methods, the researchers carefully selected rows of atoms, precisely grew them in the lab, and meticulously studied them.


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