Transparency induced in opals via nanometer thick conformal coating


Self-assembled periodic structures out of monodisperse spherical particles, so-called opals, are a versatile approach to obtain 3D photonic crystals. We show that a thin conformal coating of only several nanometers can completely alter the reflection properties of such an opal. Specifically, a coating with a refractive index larger than that of the spherical particles can eliminate the first photonic band gap of opals. To explain this non-intuitive effect, where a nm-scaled coating results in a drastic change of optical properties at wavelengths a hundred times bigger, we split the permittivity distribution of the opal into a lattice function convoluted with that of core-shell particles as a motif. In reciprocal space, the Bragg peaks that define the first Brillouin zone can be eliminated if the motif function, which is multiplied, assumes zero at the Bragg peak positions. Therefore, we designed a non-monotonic refractive index distribution from the center of the particle through the shell into the background and adjusted the coating thickness. The theory is supported by simulations and experiments that a nanometer thin TiO2 coating via atomic layer deposition (ALD) on synthetic opals made from polystyrene particles induces nearly full transparency at a wavelength range where the uncoated opal strongly reflects. This effect paves the way for sensing applications such as monitoring the thicknesses growth in ALD in-situ and in real time as well as measuring a refractive index change without spectral interrogation.
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