Plasmonics for Nanotechnology: Energy Harvesting and Memory Devices
thesisposted on 26.06.2020 by Aveek Dutta
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My dissertation research is in the field of plasmonics. Specifically, my focus is on the use of plasmonics for various applications such as solar energy harvesting and optically addressable magnetic memory devices. Plasmonics is the study of collective oscillations of free electrons in a metal coupled to an electromagnetic field. Such oscillations are characterized by large electromagnetic field intensities confined in nanoscale volumes and are called plasmons. Plasmons can be excited on a thin metal film, in which case they are called surface plasmon polaritons or in nanoscale metallic particles, in which case they are called localized surface plasmon resonances. Researchers have taken advantage of this electromagnetic field enhancement resulting from the excitation of plasmons in metallic structures and demonstrated phenomenon such as plasmon-assisted photocatalysis, plasmon-induced local heating, plasmon-enhanced chemical sensing, optical modulators, nanolasers, etc.
In the first half of my dissertation, I study the role of plasmonics in hydrogen production from water using solar energy. Hydrogen is believed to be a very viable source of alternative green fuel to meet the growing energy demands of the world. There are significant efforts in government and private sectors worldwide to implement hydrogen fuel cells as the future of the automotive and transportation industry. In this regard, water splitting using solar energy to produce hydrogen is a widely researched topic. It is believed that a Solar-to-Hydrogen (STH) conversion efficiency of 10% is good enough to be considered for practical applications. Iron oxide (alpha-Fe2O3) or hematite is one of the candidate materials for hydrogen generation by water splitting with a theoretical STH efficiency of about 15%. In this work, I experimentally show that through metallic gold nanostructures we can enhance the water oxidation photocurrent in hematite by two times for above bandgap wavelengths, thereby increasing hydrogen production. Moreover, I also show that gold nanostructures can result in a hematite photocurrent enhancement of six times for below bandgap wavelengths. The latter, I believe, is due to the excitation of plasmons in the gold nanostructures and their subsequent decay into hot holes which are harvested by hematite.
The second part of my dissertation involves data storage in magnetic media. Memory devices based on magnetic media have been widely investigated as a compact information storage platform with bit densities exceeding 1Tb/in2. As the size of nanomagnets continue to reduce to achieve higher bit densities, the magnetic fields required to write information in these bits increases. To counter this, the field of heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) was developed where a laser is used to locally heat up a magnet and make it susceptible to smaller magnetic switching fields. About two decades ago, it was realized that a single femtosecond laser pulse can switch magnetic media and therefore could be used to write information in magnetic bits. This field is now known as All-Optical Magnetic Switching (AOMS). My research aims to bring together the two fields of HAMR and AOMS to create optically addressable nanomagnets for information storage. Specifically, I want to show that plasmonic resonators can couple the laser field to nanomagnets more efficiently. This can therefore be used not only to heat the nanomagnets but also switch them with lower optical energy compared to free-standing nanomagnets without any plasmonic resonator. The results of my research show that by coupling metallic resonators, supporting surface plasmons, to nanomagnets, one can reduce the light intensity required for laser induced magnetization reversal.