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In physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

, a plasmon is a quantum
In physics, a quantum is the minimum amount of any physical entity involved in an interaction. Behind this, one finds the fundamental notion that a physical property may be "quantized," referred to as "the hypothesis of quantization". This means that the magnitude can take on only certain discrete...

 of plasma oscillation
Plasma oscillation
Plasma oscillations, also known as "Langmuir waves" , are rapid oscillations of the electron density in conducting media such as plasmas or metals. The oscillations can be described as an instability in the dielectric function of a free electron gas. The frequency only depends weakly on the...

. The plasmon is a quasiparticle
In physics, quasiparticles are emergent phenomena that occur when a microscopically complicated system such as a solid behaves as if it contained different weakly interacting particles in free space...

 resulting from the quantization
Quantization (physics)
In physics, quantization is the process of explaining a classical understanding of physical phenomena in terms of a newer understanding known as "quantum mechanics". It is a procedure for constructing a quantum field theory starting from a classical field theory. This is a generalization of the...

 of plasma
Plasma (physics)
In physics and chemistry, plasma is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms , thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions...

 oscillations just as photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

s and phonon
In physics, a phonon is a collective excitation in a periodic, elastic arrangement of atoms or molecules in condensed matter, such as solids and some liquids...

s are quantizations of light and mechanical vibrations, respectively (though the photon is an elementary particle
Elementary particle
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a particle not known to have substructure; that is, it is not known to be made up of smaller particles. If an elementary particle truly has no substructure, then it is one of the basic building blocks of the universe from which...

, not a quasiparticle). Thus, plasmons are collective oscillations of the free electron gas density, for example, at optical frequencies. Plasmons can couple with a photon to create another quasiparticle called a plasma polariton
In physics, polaritons are quasiparticles resulting from strong coupling of electromagnetic waves with an electric or magnetic dipole-carrying excitation. They are an expression of the common quantum phenomenon known as level repulsion, also known as the anti-crossing principle...


Since plasmons are the quantization of classical plasma oscillations, most of their properties can be derived directly from Maxwell's equations
Maxwell's equations
Maxwell's equations are a set of partial differential equations that, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electrodynamics, classical optics, and electric circuits. These fields in turn underlie modern electrical and communications technologies.Maxwell's equations...



Plasmons can be described in the classical picture as an oscillation of free electron density with respect to the fixed positive ions in a metal. To visualize a plasma oscillation, imagine a cube of metal is placed in an external electric field pointing to the right. Electrons will move to the left side (uncovering positive ions on the right side) until they cancel the field inside the metal. Now we switch the electric field off, and the electrons move to the right, repelled by each other and attracted to the positive ions left bare on the right side. They oscillate back and forth at the plasma frequency until the energy is lost in some kind of resistance or damping. Plasmons are a quantization of this kind of oscillation.

Plasmons play a large role in the optical properties of metals. Light
Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye, and is responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light has wavelength in a range from about 380 nanometres to about 740 nm, with a frequency range of about 405 THz to 790 THz...

 of frequency below the plasma frequency is reflected, because the electrons in the metal screen
Electric field screening
Screening is the damping of electric fields caused by the presence of mobile charge carriers. It is an important part of the behavior of charge-carrying fluids, such as ionized gases and conduction electrons in semiconductors and metals....

 the electric field
Electric field
In physics, an electric field surrounds electrically charged particles and time-varying magnetic fields. The electric field depicts the force exerted on other electrically charged objects by the electrically charged particle the field is surrounding...

 of the light. Light of frequency above the plasma frequency is transmitted, because the electrons cannot respond fast enough to screen it. In most metals, the plasma frequency is in the ultraviolet
Ultraviolet light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays, in the range 10 nm to 400 nm, and energies from 3 eV to 124 eV...

, making them shiny (reflective) in the visible range. Some metals, such as copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 and gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

, have electronic interband transitions in the visible range, whereby specific light energies (colors) are absorbed, yielding their distinct color. In semiconductors, the valence electron
Valence band
In solids, the valence band is the highest range of electron energies in which electrons are normally present at absolute zero temperature....

 plasma frequency is usually in the deep ultraviolet, which is why they too are reflective.

The plasmon energy can often be estimated in the free electron model
Free electron model
In solid-state physics, the free electron model is a simple model for the behaviour of valence electrons in a crystal structure of a metallic solid. It was developed principally by Arnold Sommerfeld who combined the classical Drude model with quantum mechanical Fermi-Dirac statistics and hence it...


where is the conduction electron density, is the elementary charge
Elementary charge
The elementary charge, usually denoted as e, is the electric charge carried by a single proton, or equivalently, the absolute value of the electric charge carried by a single electron. This elementary charge is a fundamental physical constant. To avoid confusion over its sign, e is sometimes called...

, is the electron mass, the permittivity of free space, the Planck constant
Planck constant
The Planck constant , also called Planck's constant, is a physical constant reflecting the sizes of energy quanta in quantum mechanics. It is named after Max Planck, one of the founders of quantum theory, who discovered it in 1899...

 and the plasmon frequency.

Surface plasmons

Surface plasmon
Surface plasmon
Surface plasmons , are coherent electron oscillations that exist at the interface between any two materials where the real part of the dielectric function changes sign across the interface...

s are those plasmons that are confined to surfaces and that interact strongly with light resulting in a polariton
In physics, polaritons are quasiparticles resulting from strong coupling of electromagnetic waves with an electric or magnetic dipole-carrying excitation. They are an expression of the common quantum phenomenon known as level repulsion, also known as the anti-crossing principle...

. They occur at the interface of a vacuum or material with a positive dielectric constant
Dielectric constant
The relative permittivity of a material under given conditions reflects the extent to which it concentrates electrostatic lines of flux. In technical terms, it is the ratio of the amount of electrical energy stored in a material by an applied voltage, relative to that stored in a vacuum...

, and a negative dielectric constant (usually a metal or doped dielectric). They play a role in Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy
Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy
Surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy or surface enhanced Raman scattering is a surface-sensitive technique that enhances Raman scattering by molecules adsorbed on rough metal surfaces...

 and in explaining anomalies in diffraction from metal gratings
Diffraction grating
In optics, a diffraction grating is an optical component with a periodic structure, which splits and diffracts light into several beams travelling in different directions. The directions of these beams depend on the spacing of the grating and the wavelength of the light so that the grating acts as...

Robert W. Wood
Robert Williams Wood was an American physicist and inventor. He is often cited as being a pivotal contributor to the field of optics and is best known for giving birth to the so-called "black-light effect"...

 anomaly), among other things. Surface plasmon resonance
Surface plasmon resonance
The excitation of surface plasmons by light is denoted as a surface plasmon resonance for planar surfaces or localized surface plasmon resonance for nanometer-sized metallic structures....

 is used by biochemist
Biochemists are scientists who are trained in biochemistry. Typical biochemists study chemical processes and chemical transformations in living organisms. The prefix of "bio" in "biochemist" can be understood as a fusion of "biological chemist."-Role:...

s to study the mechanisms and kinetics of ligands binding to receptors (i.e. a substrate binding to an enzyme
Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. In enzymatic reactions, the molecules at the beginning of the process, called substrates, are converted into different molecules, called products. Almost all chemical reactions in a biological cell need enzymes in order to occur at rates...

More recently surface plasmons have been used to control colors of materials. This is possible since controlling the particle's shape and size determines the types of surface plasmons that can couple to it and propagate across it. This in turn controls the interaction of light with the surface. These effects are illustrated by the historic stained glass
Stained glass
The term stained glass can refer to coloured glass as a material or to works produced from it. Throughout its thousand-year history, the term has been applied almost exclusively to the windows of churches and other significant buildings...

 which adorn medieval cathedrals. In this case, the color is given by metal nanoparticles of a fixed size which interact with the optical field to give the glass its vibrant color. In modern science, these effects have been engineered for both visible light and microwave radiation. Much research goes on first in the microwave range because at this wavelength material surfaces can be produced mechanically as the patterns tend to be of the order a few centimeters. To produce optical range surface plasmon effects involves producing surfaces which have features <400 nm. This is much more difficult and has only recently become possible to do in any reliable or available way.

Possible applications

Position and intensity of plasmon absorption and emission peaks are affected by molecular adsorption
Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, ions, biomolecules or molecules of gas, liquid, or dissolved solids to a surface. This process creates a film of the adsorbate on the surface of the adsorbent. It differs from absorption, in which a fluid permeates or is dissolved by a liquid or solid...

, which can be used in molecular sensors
Molecular sensor
A molecular sensor or chemosensor is a molecule that interacts with an analyte to produce a detectable change. Molecular sensors combine molecular recognition with some form of reporter so the presence of the guest can be observed...

. For example, a fully operational prototype device detecting casein
Casein is the name for a family of related phosphoprotein proteins . These proteins are commonly found in mammalian milk, making up 80% of the proteins in cow milk and between 60% and 65% of the proteins in human milk....

 in milk has been fabricated. The device is based on detecting a change in absorption
Absorption (electromagnetic radiation)
In physics, absorption of electromagnetic radiation is the way by which the energy of a photon is taken up by matter, typically the electrons of an atom. Thus, the electromagnetic energy is transformed to other forms of energy for example, to heat. The absorption of light during wave propagation is...

 of a gold layer. Localized surface plasmons of metal nanoparticles can be used for sensing different types molecules, proteins, etc.

Plasmons are being considered as a means of transmitting information on computer chips
A microprocessor incorporates the functions of a computer's central processing unit on a single integrated circuit, or at most a few integrated circuits. It is a multipurpose, programmable device that accepts digital data as input, processes it according to instructions stored in its memory, and...

, since plasmons can support much higher frequencies (into the 100 THz range, while conventional wires become very lossy in the tens of GHz
GHZ or GHz may refer to:# Gigahertz .# Greenberger-Horne-Zeilinger state — a quantum entanglement of three particles.# Galactic Habitable Zone — the region of a galaxy that is favorable to the formation of life....

). For plasmon-based electronics to be useful, the analog to the transistor, called a plasmonster, was invented.

Plasmons have also been proposed
Plasmonic nanolithography
Plasmonic nanolithography is a nanolithographic process that may enable a new generation of microchip technology. Plasmonic lithography can potentially cost much less than current lithographic techniques. It may take 3 to 5 years for the technology to be implemented.-Source:*...

 as a means of high-resolution lithography
Lithography is a method for printing using a stone or a metal plate with a completely smooth surface...

 and microscopy due to their extremely small wavelengths. Both of these applications have seen successful demonstrations in the lab environment. Finally, surface plasmons have the unique capacity to confine light to very small dimensions which could enable many new applications.

Surface plasmons are very sensitive to the properties of the materials on which they propagate. This has led to their use to measure the thickness of monolayers on colloid
A colloid is a substance microscopically dispersed evenly throughout another substance.A colloidal system consists of two separate phases: a dispersed phase and a continuous phase . A colloidal system may be solid, liquid, or gaseous.Many familiar substances are colloids, as shown in the chart below...

 films, such as screening and quantifying protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

 binding events. Companies such as Biacore
Biacore is a life science products company, based in Sweden specializing in measuring protein-protein interaction and binding affinity. The technology is based on surface plasmon resonance , an optical phenomenon that enables detection of unlabeled interactants in real time...

 have commercialized instruments which operate on these principles. Optical surface plasmons are being investigated with a view to improve makeup by L'Oréal
The L'Oréal Group is the world's largest cosmetics and beauty company. With its registered office in Paris and head office in the Paris suburb of Clichy, Hauts-de-Seine, France, it has developed activities in the field of cosmetics...

 among others.

In 2009, a Korean research team found a way to greatly improve organic light-emitting diode
Organic light-emitting diode
An OLED is a light-emitting diode in which the emissive electroluminescent layer is a film of organic compounds which emit light in response to an electric current. This layer of organic semiconductor material is situated between two electrodes...

 efficiency with the use of plasmons.

A group of European researchers led by IMEC has begun work to improve solar cell efficiencies and costs through incorporation of metallic nanostructures (using plasmonic effects) that can enhance absorption of light into different types of solar cells: crystalline silicon (c-Si), high-performance III-V, organic, and dye-sensitized solar cells.

See also

External links