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Resonant Thermoelectric Nanophotonics: Applications in Spectral and Thermal Sensing


Mauser, Kelly Ann Weekley (2019) Resonant Thermoelectric Nanophotonics: Applications in Spectral and Thermal Sensing. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/0HJF-X691.


Plasmon excitation enables extreme light confinement at the nanoscale, localizing energy in subwavelength volumes and thus can enable increased absorption in photovoltaic or photoconductive detectors. Nonetheless, plasmon decay also results in energy transfer to the lattice as heat which is detrimental to photovoltaic detector performance. However, heat generation in resonant subwavelength nanostructures also represents an energy source for voltage generation, as we demonstrate in the first part of this thesis via design of resonant thermoelectric (TE) plasmonic absorbers for optical detection. Though TEs have been used to observe resonantly coupled surface plasmon polaritons in noble-metal thin films and microelectrodes, they have not been employed previously as resonant absorbers in functional TE nanophotonic structures.

We demonstrate nanostructures composed of TE thermocouple junctions using established TE materials – chromel/alumel and bismuth telluride/antimony telluride – but patterned so as to support guided mode resonances with sharp absorption profiles, and which thus generate large thermal gradients upon optical excitation and localized heat generation in the TE material. Unlike previous TE absorbers, our structures feature tunable narrowband absorption and measured single junction responsivities 4 times higher than the most similar (albeit broadband) graphene structures, with potential for much higher responsivities in thermopile architectures. For bismuth telluride – antimony telluride single thermocouple structures, we measure a maximum responsivity of 38 V/W, referenced to incident illumination power. We also find that the small heat capacity of optically resonant TE nanowires enables a fast, 3 kHz temporal response, 10-100 times faster than conventional TE detectors. We show that TE nanophotonic structures are tunable from the visible to the MIR, with small structure sizes of 50 microns x 100 micons. Our nanophotonic TE structures are suspended on thin membranes to reduce substrate heat losses and improve thermal isolation between TE structures arranged in arrays suitable for imaging or spectroscopy. Whereas photoconductive and photovoltaic detectors are typically insensitive to sub-bandgap radiation, nanophotonic TEs can be designed to be sensitive to any specific wavelength dictated by nanoscale geometry, without bandgap wavelength cutoff limitations. From the point of view of imaging and spectroscopy, they enable integration of filter and photodetector functions into a single structure. Other thermoelectric nanophotonic motifs are also explored.

Generating localized, high electric field intensity in nanophotonic and plasmonic devices has many applications, from enhancing chemical reaction rates, to thermal radiation steering, to chemical sensing, and to photovoltaics. Along with a strongly localized electric field comes a temperature rise in non-lossless photonic materials, which can affect reaction rate, photovoltaic efficiency, or other properties of the system. Measuring temperature rises in nanophotonic structures is difficult, and methods commonly employed suffer from various limitations, such as low spatial resolution (Fourier transform infrared microscopy), bulky and expensive setups (scanning thermal microscopy), intrusive methods that interfere with nanophotonic structures (Pt resistive thermometry), or the need for specialized materials (temperature dependent photoluminescence).

In the second part of this thesis, we overcome these limitations with the first-ever demonstration of temperature measurements of nanophotonic structures by employing both room temperature noise thermometry and the thermoelectric effect under ambient conditions without external probes by utilizing the properties of the materials that make up the nanophotonic structure itself. We have previously estimated the Δ T in a nanophotonic device using the thermoelectric effect, but could not determine the absolute temperature of the system. In the application we will discuss, the absolute electron temperature of the nanophotonic material itself is measured. Because Johnson-Nyquist noise is material independent and is a fundamental measure of absolute temperature, there is theoretically no need for calibration as in the case of resistive thermometry. To measure the temperature rise of a nanophotonic resonant region remotely, the Seebeck coefficient of the material is first carefully measured using noise thermometry, then the thermoelectric voltage generated in the nanophotonic materials themselves is measured from electrical leads spanning the resonantly excited region. To accomplish this, we have developed a metrology technique capable of simultaneously measuring electrical noise at two locations on the nanophotonic structure as well as the electrical potential between the two points, under chopped laser illumination that heats the structure via nanophotonic absorption, thus providing drift-corrected light on/off temperature information.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Nanophotonics; Thermoelectrics; Noise Thermometry; Thermoelectric Nanophotonics
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Applied Physics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Atwater, Harry Albert
Group:Kavli Nanoscience Institute
Thesis Committee:
  • Schwab, Keith C. (chair)
  • Painter, Oskar J.
  • Minnich, Austin J.
  • Atwater, Harry Albert
Defense Date:19 April 2019
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06062019-191307495
Persistent URL:
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URLURL TypeDescription adapted for thesis.
Mauser, Kelly Ann Weekley0000-0001-9903-8559
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:11700
Deposited By: Kelly Mauser
Deposited On:07 Jun 2019 22:10
Last Modified:08 Nov 2023 00:12

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