Antenna-load interactions at optical frequencies: impedance matching to quantum systems

By: Robert L. Olmon and Markus B. Raschke

Nanotechnology 23, 444001 (2012)

The goal of antenna design at optical frequencies is to deliver optical electromagnetic energy to loads in the form of, e.g., atoms, molecules or nanostructures, or to enhance the radiative emission from such structures, or both. A true optical antenna would, on a qualitatively new level, control the light-matter interaction on the nanoscale for controlled optical signal transduction, radiative decay engineering, quantum coherent control, and super-resolution microscopy, and provide unprecedented sensitivity in spectroscopy. Resonant metallic structures have successfully been designed to approach these goals. They are called optical antennas in analogy to radiofrequency (RF) antennas due to their capability to collect and control electromagnetic fields at optical frequencies. However, in contrast to the RF, where exact design rules for antennas, waveguides, and antenna-load matching in terms of their impedances are well established, substantial physical differences limit the simple extension of the RF concepts into the optical regime. Key distinctions include, for one, intrinsic material resonances including quantum state excitations (metals, metal oxides, semiconductor homo- and heterostructures) and extrinsic resonances (surface plasmon/phonon polaritons) at optical frequencies. Second, in the absence of discrete inductors, capacitors, and resistors, new design strategies must be developed to impedance match the antenna to the load, ultimately in the form of a vibrational, electronic, or spin excitation on the quantum level. Third, there is as yet a lack of standard performance metrics for characterizing, comparing and quantifying optical antenna performance. Therefore, optical antenna development is currently challenged at all the levels of design, fabrication, and characterization.

Here we generalize the ideal antenna-load interaction at optical frequencies, characterized by three main steps: (i) far-field reception of a propagating mode exciting an antenna resonance, (ii) subsequent transformation of that mode into a nanoscale spatial localization, and (iii) near-field coupling via an enhanced local density of states to a quantum load. These three steps define the goal of efficient transformation of incident radiation into a quantum excitation in an impedance-matched fashion. We review the physical basis of the light-matter interaction at the transition from the RF to optical regime, discuss the extension of antenna theory as needed for the design of impedance-matched optical antenna-load coupled systems, and provide several examples of the state of the art in design strategies and suggest future extensions. We furthermore suggest new performance metrics based on the combination of electric vector field, field enhancement and capture cross section measurement to aid in comparison between different antenna designs and optimization of optical antenna performance within the physical parameter space.