Opto-chemo-mechanical transduction in photoresponsive gels elicits switchable self-trapped beams with remote interactions.


John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138; [Email] [Email]


Next-generation photonics envisions circuitry-free, rapidly reconfigurable systems powered by solitonic beams of self-trapped light and their particlelike interactions. Progress, however, has been limited by the need for reversibly responsive materials that host such nonlinear optical waves. We find that repeatedly switchable self-trapped visible laser beams, which exhibit strong pairwise interactions, can be generated in a photoresponsive hydrogel. Through comprehensive experiments and simulations, we show that the unique nonlinear conditions arise when photoisomerization of spiropyran substituents in pH-responsive poly(acrylamide-co-acrylic acid) hydrogel transduces optical energy into mechanical deformation of the 3D cross-linked hydrogel matrix. A Gaussian beam self-traps when localized isomerization-induced contraction of the hydrogel and expulsion of water generates a transient waveguide, which entraps the optical field and suppresses divergence. The waveguide is erased and reformed within seconds when the optical field is sequentially removed and reintroduced, allowing the self-trapped beam to be rapidly and repeatedly switched on and off at remarkably low powers in the milliwatt regime. Furthermore, this opto-chemo-mechanical transduction of energy mediated by the 3D cross-linked hydrogel network facilitates pairwise interactions between self-trapped beams both in the short range where there is significant overlap of their optical fields, and even in the long range--over separation distances of up to 10 times the beam width--where such overlap is negligible.


dynamic optics,nonlinear dynamics,photochromic gels,self-trapped beams,spiropyran,

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