Abstract: Coinage metals, such as Au, Ag, and Cu, have been important materials throughout history.1 While in ancient cultures they were admired primarily for their ability to reflect light, their applications have become far more sophisticated with our increased understanding and control of the atomic world. Today, these metals are widely used in electronics, catalysis, and as structural materials, but when they are fashioned into structures with nanometer-sized dimensions, they also become enablers for a completely different set of applications that involve light. These new applications go far beyond merely reflecting light, and have renewed our interest in maneuvering the interactions between metals and light in a field known as plasmonics.2–6
In plasmonics, the metal nanostructures can serve as antennas to convert light into localized electric fields (E-fields) or as waveguides to route light to desired locations with nanometer precision. These applications are made possible through a strong interaction between incident light and free electrons in the nanostructures. With a tight control over the nanostructures in terms of size and shape, light can be effectively manipulated and controlled with unprecedented accuracy.3,7 While many new technologies stand to be realized from plasmonics, with notable examples including superlenses,8 invisible cloaks,9 and quantum computing,10,11 conventional technologies like microprocessors and photovoltaic devices could also be made significantly faster and more efficient with the integration of plasmonic nanostructures.12–15 Of the metals, Ag has probably played the most important role in the development of plasmonics, and its unique properties make it well-suited for most of the next-generation plasmonic technologies.16–18
1.1. What is Plasmonics?
Plasmonics is related to the localization, guiding, and manipulation of electromagnetic waves beyond the diffraction limit and down to the nanometer length scale.4,6 The key component of plasmonics is a metal, because it supports surface plasmon polariton modes (indicated as surface plasmons or SPs throughout this review), which are electromagnetic waves coupled to the collective oscillations of free electrons in the metal.
While there are a rich variety of plasmonic metal nanostructures, they can be differentiated based on the plasmonic modes they support: localized surface plasmons (LSPs) or propagating surface plasmons (PSPs).5,19 In LSPs, the time-varying electric field associated with the light (Eo) exerts a force on the gas of negatively charged electrons in the conduction band of the metal and drives them to oscillate collectively. At a certain excitation frequency (w), this oscillation will be in resonance with the incident light, resulting in a strong oscillation of the surface electrons, commonly known as a localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) mode.20 This phenomenon is illustrated in Figure 1A. Structures that support LSPRs experience a uniform Eo when excited by light as their dimensions are much smaller than the wavelength of the light.
Schematic illustration of the two types of plasmonic nanostructures discussed in this article as excited by the electric field (Eo) of incident light with wavevector (k). In (A) the nanostructure is smaller than the wavelength of light and the free electrons ...
In contrast, PSPs are supported by structures that have at least one dimension that approaches the excitation wavelength, as shown in Figure 1B.4 In this case, the Eo is not uniform across the structure and other effects must be considered. In such a structure, like a nanowire for example, SPs propagate back and forth between the ends of the structure. This can be described as a Fabry-Perot resonator with resonance condition l=nλsp, where l is the length of the nanowire, n is an integer, and λsp is the wavelength of the PSP mode.21,22 Reflection from the ends of the structure must also be considered, which can change the phase and resonant length. Propagation lengths can be in the tens of micrometers (for nanowires) and the PSP waves can be manipulated by controlling the geometrical parameters of the structure.23