Evanescent Wave - Evanescent Wave Applications

Evanescent Wave Applications

In optics and acoustics, evanescent waves are formed when waves traveling in a medium undergo total internal reflection at its boundary because they strike it at an angle greater than the so-called critical angle. The physical explanation for the existence of the evanescent wave is that the electric and magnetic fields (or pressure gradients, in the case of acoustical waves) cannot be discontinuous at a boundary, as would be the case if there was no evanescent wave field. In quantum mechanics, the physical explanation is exactly analogous—the Schrödinger wave-function representing particle motion normal to the boundary cannot be discontinuous at the boundary.

Electromagnetic evanescent waves have been used to exert optical radiation pressure on small particles to trap them for experimentation, or to cool them to very low temperatures, and to illuminate very small objects such as biological cells for microscopy (as in the total internal reflection fluorescence microscope). The evanescent wave from an optical fiber can be used in a gas sensor, and evanescent waves figure in the infrared spectroscopy technique known as attenuated total reflectance.

In electrical engineering, evanescent waves are found in the near-field region within one third of a wavelength of any radio antenna. During normal operation, an antenna emits electromagnetic fields into the surrounding nearfield region, and a portion of the field energy is reabsorbed, while the remainder is radiated as EM waves.

Recently, a graphene-based Bragg grating (one-dimensional photonic crystal) has been fabricated and demonstrated its competence for excitation of surface electromagnetic waves in the periodic structure using prism coupling technique

In quantum mechanics, the evanescent-wave solutions of the Schrödinger equation give rise to the phenomenon of wave-mechanical tunneling.

In microscopy, systems that capture the information contained in evanescent waves can be used to create super-resolution images. Matter radiates both propagating and evanescent electromagnetic waves. Conventional optical systems capture only the information in the propagating waves and hence are subject to the diffraction limit. Systems that capture the information contained in evanescent waves, such as the superlens and near field scanning optical microscopy, can overcome the diffraction limit; however these systems are then limited by the system's ability to accurately capture the evanescent waves. The limitation on their resolution is given by


where is the maximum wave vector that can be resolved, is the distance between the object and the sensor, and is a measure of the quality of the sensor.

More generally, practical applications of evanescent waves can be classified in the following way:

  1. Those in which the energy associated with the wave is used to excite some other phenomenon within the region of space where the original traveling wave becomes evanescent (for example, as in the total internal reflection fluorescence microscope)
  2. Those in which the evanescent wave couples two media in which traveling waves are allowed, and hence permits the transfer of energy or a particle between the media (depending on the wave equation in use), even though no traveling-wave solutions are allowed in the region of space between the two media. An example of this is so-called wave-mechanical tunnelling, and is known generally as evanescent wave coupling.

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