A photonic crystal is a periodic optical nanostructure that affects the motion of photons in much the same way that ionic lattices affect electrons in solids. Photonic crystals occur in nature in the form of structural coloration—and, in different forms, promise to be useful in a range of applications.
In 1887 the English physicist Lord Rayleigh experimented with periodic multi-layer dielectric stacks, showing they had a photonic band-gap in one dimension. Research interest grew with work in 1987 by Yablonovitch and John on periodic optical structures with more than one dimension—now called photonic crystals.
Photonic crystals can be fabricated for one, two, or three dimensions. One-dimensional photonic crystals can be made of layers deposited or stuck together. Two-dimensional ones can be made by photolithography, or by drilling holes in a suitable substrate. Fabrication methods for three-dimensional ones include drilling under different angles, stacking multiple 2-D layers on top of each other, direct laser writing, or, for example, instigating self-assembly of spheres in a matrix and dissolving the spheres.
Photonic crystals can, in principle, find uses wherever light must be manipulated. Existing applications include thin-film optics with coatings for lenses. Two-dimensional photonic-crystal fibers are used in nonlinear devices and to guide exotic wavelengths. Three-dimensional crystals may one day be used in optical computers.