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Achieving the reddest red: Schrödinger’s red pixel by quasi-bound-states in-the-continuum

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The next time you notice the iridescent colours in certain species of birds, beetles and butterflies, marvel that these arise from the regular arrangement of nanostructures that scatter selective wavelengths of light more strongly to generate colour! These colours are called structural colours, which usually range from blues to greens, and even magenta. However, vibrant or saturated reds are elusive and notably absent from the structural colour range in both natural and synthetic realms.

To achieve highly saturated reds, the material needs to absorb light from all wavelengths shorter than ~600 nm and reflect the remaining longer wavelengths, doing both as completely as possible. This sharp transition from absorption to reflection was prescribed theoretically by none other than Erwin Schrodinger of quantum theory fame. However, the physics of resonators tell us that high-order optical resonances in blue will also occur as soon as we have a fundamental resonance in red. This combination of blue and red thus results in the magenta observed in nature. It is therefore challenging to achieve the Schrödinger’s red pixel, which would produce the most saturated red in the world. Current nanoantenna-based approaches are insufficient to simultaneously satisfy the above conditions.

Researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*STAR) Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have collaborated to design and realise reds at the ultimate limit of saturation as predicted by theory, where the team worked together on conceptualisation methodology, fabrications, characterisations and simulations. This research was published in Science Advances on 23 February 2022. 

Potential uses for Schrödinger’s red include developing a polarisation dependent encryption method, with plans to scale up the Schrödinger’s red pixel for applications like functional nanofabrication devices such as optical spectrometers and reflective displays with high colour saturation.

“With this new design that can achieve the most saturated and brightest reds, we can exploit its sensitivity to polarisation and illumination angle on potential applications for information encryption. This proposed concept and design methodology could also be generalised to other Schrödinger’s colour pixels. The highly-saturated red achieved could be potentially scaled up through methods such as deep ultraviolet and nano-imprint lithography, to reach the dimensions of reflective displays based on multilayer film configuration, which could lead to potential applications like compact red filters, highly saturated reflective displays, nonlocal metasurfaces, and miniaturised spectrometers”, said Dr. Dong Zhaogang, Deputy Department Head of Nanofabrication at A*STAR’s IMRE.