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Giant nonlinear optical responses from photon avalanching nanoparticles

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posted on 2023-11-30, 20:11 authored by Changhwan Lee, Emma Xu, Yawei Liu, Ayelet Teitelboim, Kaiyuan Yao, Angel Fernandez-Bravo, Agata Kotulska, Sang Hwan Nam, Yung Doug Suh, Artur Bednarkiewicz, Bruce E. Cohen, Emory M. Chan, P. James Schuck
Avalanche phenomena leverage steeply nonlinear dynamics to generate disproportionately high responses from small perturbations and are found in a multitude of events and materials, enabling technologies including optical phase-conjugate imaging, infrared quantum counting, and efficient upconverted lasing. However, the photon avalanching (PA) mechanism underlying these optical innovations has been observed only in bulk materials and aggregates, and typically at cryogenic temperatures, limiting its utility and impact. Here, we report the realization of PA at room temperature in single nanostructures--small, Tm-doped upconverting nanocrystals--and demonstrate their use in superresolution imaging at near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths within spectral windows of maximal biological transparency. Avalanching nanoparticles (ANPs) can be pumped by continuous-wave or pulsed lasers and exhibit all of the defining features of PA. These hallmarks include excitation power thresholds, long rise time at threshold, and a dominant excited-state absorption that is >13,000x larger than ground-state absorption. Beyond the avalanching threshold, ANP emission scales nonlinearly with the 26th power of pump intensity. This enables the realization of photon-avalanche single-beam superresolution imaging (PASSI), achieving sub-70 nm spatial resolution using only simple scanning confocal microscopy and before any computational analysis. Pairing their steep nonlinearity with existing superresolution techniques and computational methods, ANPs allow for imaging with higher resolution and at ca. 100-fold lower excitation intensities than is possible with other probes. The low PA threshold and exceptional photostability of ANPs also suggest their utility in a diverse array of applications including sub-wavelength bioimaging, IR detection, temperature and pressure transduction, neuromorphic computing, and quantum optics.

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