Extraordinary terahertz absorption bands observed in micro/nanostructured Au/polystyrene sphere arrays
© Duan et al.; licensee Springer. 2012
Received: 18 July 2012
Accepted: 9 November 2012
Published: 28 November 2012
Skip to main content
© Duan et al.; licensee Springer. 2012
Received: 18 July 2012
Accepted: 9 November 2012
Published: 28 November 2012
Terahertz (THz) time-domain spectroscopy is carried out for micro/nanostructured periodic Au/dielectric sphere arrays on Si substrate. We find that the metal-insulator transition can be achieved in THz bandwidth via varying sample parameters such as the thickness of the Au shell and the diameter of the Au/dielectric sphere. The Au/polystyrene sphere arrays do not show metallic THz response when the Au shell thickness is larger than 10 nm and the sphere diameter is smaller than 500 nm. This effect is in sharp contrast to the observations in flat Au films on Si substrate. Interestingly, the Au/polystyrene sphere arrays with a 5-nm-thick Au shell show extraordinary THz absorption bands or metallic optical conductance when the diameter of the sphere is larger than 200 nm. This effect is related to the quantum confinement effect in which the electrons in the structure are trapped in the sphere potential well of the gold shell.
In recent years, artificially structured metal-dielectric systems have attracted extensive attentions due to potential applications in electronic and optoelectronic devices. These advanced material systems have been proposed as a new generation of optic and optoelectronic materials and devices working in terahertz (THz) bandwidth, motivated by realizing and developing new devices that can fill the THz gap[1, 2]. For instance, metamaterials composed of subwavelength split-ring resonate arrays allow both electric- and magnetic-dipole interactions, which is promising in the development of novel THz devices such as perfect lens, cloak, etc.[3, 4]. On the other hand, metal-dielectric interfaces with the structure of a periodic metallic pattern can give rise to the formation of THz photonic bands via strong coupling between electromagnetic waves and surface plasmon modes[5, 6]. An extraordinary light transmission due to surface plasmon polariton (SPP) excitation in THz-frequency domain has been observed in periodic metallic hole arrays[7–10]. Generally, both metamaterials and SPP devices are able to realize the resonant enhancement of the electromagnetic interactions at selective frequency. In traditional two-dimensional planar metallic structures on dielectric substrates, the unit size is normally on subwavelength distance scale and the thickness of the metal film is of the order of about 100 nm, i.e., the size of the metallic unit or lattice is comparable to the coherent length of corresponding photons but far beyond that of conducting electrons. In principle, when the thickness of a metallic film approaches the nanometer distance scale or smaller than the mean free path of electron motion, the electronic conduction can be reduced pronouncedly and, thus, the metal-insulator transition can be observed. Hence, the nanometer-sized metallic structures are not appropriate for electromagnetic devices which can be functional in the manner of metamaterials or SPP devices. This is due mainly to the poor electronic conduction tending to decrease the electric and magnetic interactions. With the rapid development of nanotechnology, now it has become possible to fabricate different nanosized array structures with different materials. This can provide us with new material and device systems to examine light-induced metal-insulator transition and with more freedom to modulate the light response of the material and device systems through varying the array structure artificially. In this paper, we present a systematic study on how metal nanosphere arrays can respond to THz light fields. We would like to demonstrate that THz anomalous absorption bands can be observed in Au/dielectric sphere array structures with a micrometer sphere diameter and a nanometer shell thickness. We intend to find out how the THz response of the sphere arrays differs from those observed in the metamaterials and SPP devices.
Polystyrene (PS) spheres with diameters of 200, 500, and 1,000 nm were, respectively, coated on high-resistance Si wafers and self-organized into an orderly colloidal PS monolayer with a structure of hexagonal closest packing. The PS sphere arrays with Au shells were processed by depositing gold onto the PS film by means of ion-beam sputtering. The Au/PS spheres with gold shell thicknesses of 5, 10, and 15 nm were fabricated in the present study. The details of the sample fabrication were documented in.
The transmission spectra normalized with respect to the Si substrate for different diameters of Au/PS spheres in the array structures are shown in Figure3, where the Au shell thickness is fixed at 10 nm. The result for the 10-nm-thick Au film on Si substrate is shown as reference. It can be seen that the transmission spectra of the Au/PS sphere arrays with 10-nm Au shell thickness do not indicate effects similar to the metallic light response. Instead, the intensity of the transmittance for the Au/PS sphere arrays shows a strong dependence on the size of the Au/PS sphere. The THz transmission in a sphere array with 1,000-nm sphere diameter and 10-nm Au shell thickness is pronouncedly larger than that for a flat Au film with the same thickness of the Au layer. In particular, the 200- and 500-nm-diameter sphere arrays are almost transparent within investigated THz bandwidth. This implies that the array samples are optically insulating in the THz regime. Similar results can be observed for array samples with 15-nm Au shell thickness. It is known that in a metal sphere array structure, the electron–electron interaction at the interface between adjacent spheres plays a crucial role in affecting optical conductance and transmittance. The arrangement of the Au/PS spheres in the manner of packing closely to each other can introduce relatively high interface carrier density. Normally, such a density is larger in arrays with smaller Au/PS spheres than in those with larger spheres. A larger interface carrier density corresponds to a stronger interface electronic scattering, which can reduce macroscopic conductivity of the sample. Thus, the optical conductance is smaller in arrays with smaller Au/PS spheres. Hence, the THz transmission increases with decreasing size of the Au/PS spheres in the array structures, as shown in Figure3.
Different from traditional planar metallic structural arrays on a dielectric substrate, the Au/PS sphere arrays introduce the quantum confinement of electron motion in a radial direction between the barriers from dielectric sphere and air, when the thickness of the gold shell is thin enough. The highly confined electrons in the shell structure's potential well can form quantized electronic states with energy spacing to be in the THz range. This can result in the resonant absorption in THz bandwidth due to inter-subband electronic transition accompanied by the absorption of THz photons. In addition, the periodical structure of the Au shell arrays can also modulate the electronic states and corresponding electron wave functions. For sphere arrays with thin Au shell spheres packed closely to each other, the electron wave function in one sphere can penetrate to other neighboring spheres and form mini-band structures. This can lead to achieve a broadened THz absorption spectrum in the samples. Furthermore, the SPP modes in Au/PS sphere arrays differ significantly from those in Au/substrate film structures. Thus, the coupling between THz electromagnetic field and electrons trapped in the Au shell arrays has some unique features. The results obtained from this study indicate that the strength of coupling between THz light radiation and electrons in the Au/PS sphere array can be efficiently tuned and modulated via varying sample parameters such as the diameter of the Au/PS sphere and the thickness of the Au shell. Consequently, the Au/PS sphere array is a good electronic device in examining photon-induced metal-insulator transition in THz bandwidth.
It should be noted that normally the different curvatures of the nanospheres can lead to different nanocluster distributions on the spheres. This can also affect the THz transmission in the sample structure. The investigation into different cluster modes in different samples with different diameters needs considerable SEM study, and we do not attempt it in the present study. As shown in Figure4, the THz absorption bands occur at about 1.2 and 1.7 THz at a fixed shell thickness of about 5 nm for sphere diameters from 200 to 1,000 nm. Our very recent theoretical calculations indicate that for hollow nanosphere structures and when the diameter of the sphere is larger than 100 nm, the electronic subband energies degenerate and depend only on the shell thickness d via En = ħ2π2n2/2m*d2, where n is the quantum number and m* is the effective mass for an electron in the gold shell. We know that the THz absorption in the Au/PS nanosphere array is mainly induced by the surface plasmon resonance and the absorption frequency is determined mainly by the surface plasmon frequency. In a quantum structure such as Au nanosphere array, the surface plasmon frequency depends mainly on the energy difference between different electronic subbands. Thus, when the diameter of the Au nanosphere array is larger than 100 nm, the THz absorption frequency depends mainly on the Au shell thickness and depends very little on the diameter of the sample.
In this study, we have demonstrated clearly that micro/nanostructured periodic Au/PS sphere arrays can tune and modulate strongly the THz light response by varying sample parameters such as the thickness of the gold shell and the diameter of the Au/PS sphere. We have found that the decrease in the sphere size can induce the metal-insulator transition. This is due to the fact that for smaller sized sphere structures, the electron–electron interaction can be enhanced between the adjacent spheres. It is interesting to point out that the THz absorption bands located at about 0.6, 1.2, and 1.7 THz can be observed when the Au shell thickness is about 5 nm. We have tentatively attributed such an extraordinary THz absorption effect to the quantum confinement of the electrons trapped in the gold shell as a potential well between barriers of the dielectric sphere and air. The results obtained from this study suggest that the Au/PS sphere array is a good electronic device in examining photon-induced metal-insulator transition in THz bandwidth. We hope that the experimental findings from this study can shed some light in examining basic physics effects and in applying metal nanosphere array structures as THz devices for various applications.
This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant nos. 11004199, 10704075, 10974206, and 50831005), Ministry of Science and Technology of China (grant no. 2011YQ130018), Provincial Natural Science Foundation of Anhui (grant no. 11040606M62), National Basic Research Program (973) of China (grant no. 2011CB302103) and Department of Science and Technology of Yunnan Province.
This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.