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Reflecting upon the losses in plasmonics and metamaterials

  • Jacob B. Khurgin (a1) and Alexandra Boltasseva (a2)

Plasmonics aims at combining features of photonics and electronics by coupling photons with a free-electron gas, whose subwavelength oscillations (surface plasmons) enable manipulation of light at the nanoscale and engender the exciting properties of optical metamaterials. Plasmonics is facing a grand challenge of overcoming metal losses impeding its progress. We reflect on the reasons why subwavelength confinement and loss are intimately intertwined and investigate the physics of loss in conductors beyond the conventional Drude model. We suggest that commonly used noble metals may not be the best materials for plasmonics and describe alternate materials such as transparent conducting oxides and transition metal nitrides. We consider the prospects of compensating the loss with gain materials and conclude that the so-far elusive solution to the loss obstacle lies in finding better materials with lower losses.

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