The role of virtual photons in nanoscale photonics



The fundamental theory of processes and properties associated with nanoscale photonics should properly account for the quantum nature of both the matter and the radiation field. A familiar example is the Casimir force, whose significant role in nanoelectromechanical systems is widely recognised; the correct representation invokes the creation of short-lived virtual photons from the vacuum. In fact, there is an extensive range of nanophotonic interactions in which virtual photon exchange plays a vital role, mediating the coupling between particles. This review surveys recent theory and applications, also exhibiting novel insights into key electrodynamic mechanisms. Examples are numerous and include: laser-induced inter-particle forces known as optical binding; non-parametric frequency-conversion processes especially in rare-earth doped materials; light-harvesting polymer materials that involve electronic energy transfer between their constituent chromophores. An assessment of these and the latest prospective applications concludes with a view on future directions of research.