Nanophotonics involves manipulating light on length scales much smaller than the wavelength of the light, i.e., much smaller than the world’s best microscopes achieve, even the new generation of super-resolution microscopes. In the past 20 years the field of plasmonics has emerged, in which nanostructured metals have delivered unprecedented sub-wavelength resolution by mixing light with the motion of free electrons in the metals (the same electrons that conduct electricity). Harnessing molecules rather than metals to create new materials that enable the nanoscale control of light is an exciting new opportunity that we are now developing intensively. Our work so far has been primarily theoretical; the time is now ripe to undertake pioneering experimental research that will establish the full potential of this new idea.
We will make new molecular nanostructures that exploit weak coupling to guide and concentrate light. This will allow us to create a new class of nanophotonic materials; it also promises to make nanophotonic technology more attainable by harnessing simpler fabrication methods adapted from supramolecular chemistry and biology. Could it be that nature has been exploiting nanophotonics to help harvest our sun’s energy since life on Earth began? We may help to answer this question.