Schubert and his coworkers have created a material with a refractive index of 1.05, which is extremely close to the refractive index of air and the lowest ever reported. Window glass, for comparison, has a refractive index of about 1.45.
Scientists have attempted for years to create materials that can eliminate unwanted reflections, which can degrade the performance of various optical components and devices. “We started thinking, there is no viable material available in the refractive index range 1.0-1.4,” Schubert said. “If we had such a material, we could do incredible new things in optics and photonics.”
To achieve a very low refractive index, silica nanorods are deposited at an angle of precisely 45 degrees on top of a thin film of aluminum nitride.
So the team created one. Using a technique called oblique angle deposition, the researchers deposited silica nanorods at an angle of precisely 45 degrees on top of a thin film of aluminum nitride, which is a semiconducting material used in advanced light-emitting diodes (LEDs). From the side, the films look much like the cross section of a piece of lawn turf with the blades slightly flattened.
The technique allows the researchers to strongly reduce or even eliminate reflection at all wavelengths and incoming angles of light, Schubert said. Conventional anti-reflection coatings, although widely used, work only at a single wavelength and when the light source is positioned directly perpendicular to the material.
The new optical coating could find use in just about any application where light travels into or out of a material, including more efficient solar cells, brighter LEDs, optical interconnects, high-reflectance mirrors, and “smart” light sources that offer the potential for totally new functionalities.