Harnessing Light for Nanotechnologies

Novel nanofabrication makes nonlinear photon play possible in 3D.

A graphic with a blue background, 10 gray spheres in two columns lined up at an angle across a trapezoid with a star of light in the lower left corner.
Image courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Researchers guided photons through a zigzag design of silicon nanodisks, demonstrating the first fully three-dimensional (3D) nonlinear topological nanostructure for light generation.

The Science

Scientists found a new way to build silicon nanodisks - extremely tiny, flat, round objects. With this new technology, scientists can guide light along the outside of these tiny structures in a way they have never been able to before. Unlike in previous structures, they were able to send light in a zig-zag pattern rather than a straight line. In addition, previous 2D structures were too big to use in nanoscale applications. Improving the ability to move the light in multiple dimensions will make it easier to integrate these nanostructures into technologies in the future. 

The Impact

Improving the efficiency and reducing the cost of several technologies require that scientists be able to manage light energy at the nanoscale. Previous technologies have only been able to generate light in straight lines and guide it in a single direction. In addition, these larger structures are too big to use in nanoscale devices. But light-based energy systems that protect themselves against disorder and other influences that disrupt performance could help. 3D nanostructures like those in this study could lead to smaller, faster, and more efficient nanotechnologies such as quantum computing, solar cells, and communications. 


Managing photons, or light energy, at the nanoscale is an important route to improving the efficiency and reducing the cost of transformative energy technologies with broad applications ranging from solar cells to quantum computers. However, light generation has been limited to linear pathways, meaning it can only be guided in one direction, and macroscale structures that are not compatible with nanoscale devices. Novel fabrication of 3D nanostructures that enable multi-directional light manipulation will open new territory for photon-based nanotechnologies that are smaller, faster, and more efficient than current resources.

One of the challenges of pushing photonics to more complex structures at the nanoscale is to overcome material defects and deformations that can disrupt signaling and result in energy loss or poor performance. New efforts to incorporate “topological” structures, configurations that are not altered by deformations like stretching or twisting, into light physics enable materials to be fine-tuned at the atomic level to enhance energy efficiency (e.g., photon signaling) and realize the full potential of photons in nanoscale devices.


Ivan Kravchenko
Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Yuri Kivshar
Nonlinear Physics Centre, Australian National University


The research was funded by the Australian Research Council and the Strategic Fund of the Australian National University and supported in part by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research. A portion of the research was conducted at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, which is a Department of Energy, Office of Science User Facility.


Kruk, S., et al., “Nonlinear light generation in topological nanostructures.” Nature Nanotechnology 14, 126–130 (2019). [DOI: 10.1038/s41565-018-0324-7]

Highlight Categories

Program: BES , SUF

Performer: SC User Facilities , BES User Facilities , CNMS , DOE Laboratory , University

Additional: Collaborations , International Collaboration