A plasmonic motor only 100 nanometers in size when illuminated with linearly polarized light can generate a torque sufficient to drive a micrometre-sized silica disk 4,000 times larger in volume.
In addition to easily being able to control the rotational speed and direction of this motor, we can create coherent arrays of such motors, which results in greater torque and faster rotation of the microdisk
“When multiple motors are integrated into one silica microdisk, the torques applied on the disk from the individual motors accumulate and the overall torque is increased,” Liu says. “For example, a silica disk embedded with four plasmonic nanomotors attains the same rotation speed with only half of the laser power applied as a disk embedded with a single motor.” The nanoscale size of this new light mill makes it ideal for powering NEMS, where the premium is on size rather than efficiency. Generating relatively powerful torque in a nanosized light mill also has numerous potential biological applications, including the controlled unwinding and rewinding of the DNA double helix. When these light mill motors are structurally optimized for efficiency, they could be useful for harvesting solar energy in nanoscopic systems.
When Sir William Crookes developed a four-vaned radiometer, also known as the light-mill, in 1873, it was believed that this device confirmed the existence of linear momentum carried by photons, as predicted by Maxwell’s equations. Although Reynolds later proved that the torque on the radiometer was caused by thermal transpiration, researchers continued to search for ways to take advantage of the momentum of photons and to use it for generating rotational forces. The ability to provide rotational force at the nanoscale could open up a range of applications in physics, biology and chemistry, including DNA unfolding and sequencing and nanoelectromechanical systems. Here, we demonstrate a nanoscale plasmonic structure that can, when illuminated with linearly polarized light, generate a rotational force that is capable of rotating a silica microdisk that is 4,000 times larger in volume. Furthermore, we can control the rotation velocity and direction by varying the wavelength of the incident light to excite different plasmonic modes