A team of MIT scientists has combined graphene with a second, similarly structured material, producing a hybrid that can wield significant control over light waves. The findings could have an impact in a number of fields, including efforts to utilize light in computing chips.

Graphene is a one atom-thick material with a hexagonal lattice structure that's both extremely strong and highly conductive. We've seen some extremely promising uses for the material, including a graphene-based display and efforts to integrate it into fabric, paving the way for a new wave of wearable technology. Now a team of MIT researchers believes the material could even be used to control light.

The researchers deposited a layer of one atom-thick graphene on top of a layer of a material known as hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), which features a hexagonal pattern of atoms akin to that of its partner.

Though the two materials share similar structural makeup, they interact with light in very different ways. When light interacts with hBN it produces phonons, while interaction with graphene gives rise to plasmons. Combining the two materials however, creates a resonance between the two particle types.

Depending on the voltage being applied to the material, it will either block light or allow for a special kind of emission and propagation that lets researchers guide the beams, funneling and controlling them as required. The material can even be manipulated to only allow certain wavelengths through.

One key use for this development would be the improved interconnection of optical and electronic components. The material could be used to produce small optical waveguides, around 20 nanometers wide, that could be integrated with conventional circuitry in microchips, potentially leading to faster computing.

The findings of the study have been published in the journal Nano Letters.

Source: MIT