High-Performance Ultrathin Active Chiral Metamaterials

Ultrathin active chiral metamaterials with dynamically tunable and responsive optical chirality enable new optical sensors, modulators, and switches. Herein, we develop ultrathin active chiral metamaterials of highly tunable chiroptical responses by inducing tunable near-field coupling in the metamaterials and exploit the metamaterials as ultrasensitive sensors to detect trace amounts of solvent impurities. To demonstrate the active chiral metamaterials mediated by tunable near-field coupling, we design moiré chiral metamaterials (MCMs) as model metamaterials, which consist of two layers of identical Au nanohole arrays stacked upon one another in moiré patterns with a dielectric spacer layer between the Au layers. Our simulations, analytical fittings, and experiments reveal that spacer-dependent near-field coupling exists in the MCMs, which significantly enhances the spectral shift and line shape change of the circular dichroism (CD) spectra of the MCMs. Furthermore, we use a silk fibroin thin film as the spacer layer in the MCM. With the solvent-controllable swelling of the silk fibroin thin films, we demonstrate actively tunable near-field coupling and chiroptical responses of the silk-MCMs. Impressively, we have achieved the spectral shift over a wavelength range that is more than one full width at half-maximum and the sign inversion of the CD spectra in a single ultrathin (1/5 of wavelength in thickness) MCM. Finally, we apply the silk-MCMs as ultrasensitive sensors to detect trace amounts of solvent impurities down to 200 ppm, corresponding to an ultrahigh sensitivity of >105 nm/refractive index unit (RIU) and a figure of merit of 105/RIU.