Exploiting the Quantum Vacuum -- From Casimir Forces to Improved Solar Energy Conversion
The interaction of light and matter is pervasive and governs many physical processes from atomic transitions to optoelectronic devices. As device dimensions become comparable to the wavelength of visible light, both quantum effects and optical waveguiding become important. In this talk, I will present our research related to nanoscale optics, quantum mechanics, and photovoltaics. First, I will discuss the Casimir force, which results from the quantum mechanical behavior of light fields in vacuum. I will describe experiments in which we tailored this interaction between solid materials to achieve both attractive and repulsive nanoscale forces. Second, I will discuss the role of optical dispersion and the density of optical states in improving the absorption characteristics of photovoltaic devices through enhanced light confinement. Finally, perspectives on controlling radiative emission to improve solar energy conversion will be discussed.