A spaser or plasmonic laser is a type of laser which aims to confine light at a subwavelength scale far below Rayleigh's diffraction limit of light, by storing some of the light energy in electron oscillations called surface plasmon polaritons. The phenomenon was first described by Bergman and Stockman in 2003. The word spaser is an acronym for "surface plasmon amplification by stimulated emission of radiation". The first such device was announced in August 2009, a 44-nanometer-diameter nanoparticle with a gold core surrounded by a dyed silica gain medium, created by researchers from Purdue, Norfolk State and Cornell universities.
The spaser is a proposed nanoscale source of optical fields that is being investigated in a number of leading laboratories around the world. Spasers could find a wide range of applications, including nanoscale lithography, fabrication of ultra-fast photonic nano circuits, single-molecule biochemical sensing, and microscopy.
From Nature Photonics:
A spaser is the nanoplasmonic counterpart of a laser, but it (ideally) does not emit photons. It is analogous to the conventional laser, but in a spaser photons are replaced by surface plasmons and the resonant cavity is replaced by a nanoparticle, which supports the plasmonic modes. Similarly to a laser, the energy source for the spasing mechanism is an active (gain) medium that is excited externally. This excitation field may be optical and unrelated to the spaser’s operating frequency; for instance, a spaser can operate in the near-infrared but the excitation of the gain medium can be achieved using an ultraviolet pulse.
The reason that surface plasmons in a spaser can work analogously to photons in a laser is that their relevant physical properties are the same. First, surface plasmons are bosons: they are vector excitations and have spin 1, just as photons do. Second, surface plasmons are electrically neutral excitations. And third, surface plasmons are the most collective material oscillations known in nature, which implies they are the most harmonic (that is, they interact very weakly with one another). As such, surface plasmons can undergo stimulated emission, accumulating in a single mode in large numbers, which is the physical foundation of both the laser and the spaser.
Study of the quantum mechanical model of the spaser suggests that it should be possible to manufacture a spasing device analogous in function to the MOSFET transistor, but this has not yet been experimentally verified.
Nano-optics is now undergoing a period of explosive growth where new ideas, developments and impressive results appear on literally a daily basis. It is concerned with the science of concentrating optical energy into regions with subwavelength dimensions (typically tens of nanometres).
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- The Smallest Laser Ever Made, Katherine Bourzac, MIT Technology Review, August 17, 2009
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