Celebrate Princeton Invention: Paul Steinhardt, Salvatore Torquato and Marian Florescu

Dec. 22, 2009 11:37 a.m.
Steinhardt Lab

From left, professors Paul Steinhardt and Salvatore Torquato and associate research scholar Marian Florescu invented disordered photonic heterostructures, designer materials that block, manipulate and control the flow of light in optical circuits in a manner similar to semiconductors in electronic circuits. An example, displayed here on the screen, consists of a network of materials with different indices of refraction, such as polymer and air. (Photo: Brian Wilson)

Names: Paul Steinhardt, the Albert Einstein Professor in Science and director of the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science; Salvatore Torquato, professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials; and Marian Florescu, associate research scholar in physics

Invention: Disordered photonic heterostructures

What they do:
Photonic heterostructures are designer materials synthesized from two or more substances for the purpose of blocking, manipulating and controlling the flow of light in optical circuits, with applications in communications, computing and novel light sources. Disordered heterostructures are unique in that they affect light the same way for all polarizations and in all directions.

The three scientists were working together to optimize the light-blocking properties of photonic "quasicrystals" that had been invented at Princeton a few years ago when they discovered a method for obtaining similar properties in disordered heterostructures based on mathematical studies of how spheres can pack together randomly. The discovery contradicts the conventional wisdom that orderly heterostructures, such as photonic crystals and quasicrystals, are essential for light-blocking devices and opens the possibility of photonic circuit components that affect light equally for all directions and polarizations.

For more information:
More details about disordered photonic heterostructures are available online.

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