Photonics Research, 2022, 10 (8): 1819, Published Online: Jul. 18, 2022  

Tunable mechanical-mode coupling based on nanobeam-double optomechanical cavities

Author Affiliations
1 Department of Electronic Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
2 Beijing National Research Center for Information Science and Technology (BNRist), Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
3 Beijing Academy of Quantum Information Sciences, Beijing, China
Tunable coupled mechanical resonators with nonequilibrium dynamic phenomena have attracted considerable attention in quantum simulations, quantum computations, and non-Hermitian systems. In this study, we propose tunable mechanical-mode coupling based on nanobeam-double optomechanical cavities. The excited optical mode interacts with both symmetric and antisymmetric mechanical supermodes and mediates coupling at a frequency of approximately 4.96 GHz. The mechanical-mode coupling is tuned through both optical spring and gain effects, and the reduced coupled frequency difference in non-Hermitian parameter space is observed. These results benefit research on the microscopic mechanical parity–time symmetry for topology and on-chip high-sensitivity sensors.


Mechanical resonators exhibiting nanomechanical or micromechanical motion with long-lifetime vibrational phonon modes have been studied extensively for classical and quantum information processing. Multi-mechanical resonators are used in applications such as ultrasensitive sensing [1,2], macroscopic quantum entanglement [3,4], dual-mode squeezing [5,6], coherent Rabi oscillation [7], synchronization [8,9], and information processing [1012]. Therefore, some chip-based coupled mechanical resonators, including microdisk cavities [8,13], silicon nitride membranes [14], carbon nanotubes [7], graphene [15], and photonic crystals [12,13], have been reported to develop integrated hybrid quantum systems [1618].

With these advances, tunable coupled mechanical resonators have attracted considerable attention because these resonators are used to investigate nonequilibrium dynamic phenomena in quantum simulation [1921], minimize decoherence errors caused by unwanted interactions in quantum computation [2224], and determine exceptional points (EPs) in non-Hermitian systems [14,25,26]. In coupled mechanical resonators, system parameters including frequency, coupling rate, and dissipation can be controlled by applying the electrostatic field [27], piezoelectric actuator [28], or cavity optomechanical (OM) interaction [13]. Among these techniques, cavity optomechanics, which describes nonlinear interaction between the light and mechanical modes in the same resonator, has been developed rapidly [715], and coherent mixing in a tunable zipper cavity and double-disk cavity with frequency approximately 10 MHz has been demonstrated [13]. However, some important applications need higher mechanical frequencies with larger tunability, such as quantum information processing [3,4,29,30], where a critical prerequisite is requiring mechanical resonators with frequencies beyond the GHz range for mechanical quantum ground states in the resolve sideband regime (mechanical resonant frequency larger than the optical dissipation rate) [2931]. Tunable coupled mechanical resonators with high mechanical frequency have great potential for realizing high-sensitivity EPs sensors with an increased resistance to environmental disturbances and sensing bandwidth [32,33], and investigating non-Hermitian systems with multi-physics scenarios [14,25,26]. Therefore, the realization of coupled mechanical resonators with both high frequency and large tunability is crucial for quantum information and non-Hermitian systems.

In this study, we propose the manipulation of mechanical-mode coupling beyond GHz range based on nanobeam-double OM cavities (OMCs) by using optical spring and optical gain effects. The optical spring effect was used to change the mechanical-mode frequency to realize mode degeneracy of two mechanical resonators. Furthermore, the optical gain effect was exploited to manipulate mechanical coupling by adjusting mechanical loss. The influence of the mechanical coupling interaction was analyzed using coupled-mode theory. In experiments, mechanical-mode coupling between two mechanical supermodes of the proposed structure with a frequency of approximately 4.96 GHz was realized through asymmetric tapered fiber coupling. The frequency difference of the two mechanical supermodes can be dynamically controlled by changing the power and wavelength of the pump laser. This result can provide a guideline for achieving microscopic mechanical parity–time symmetry to realize topology [14] and high-sensitivity sensor chips [34,35].


In the nanobeam-double OMCs studied here, two identical nanobeam OMCs are connected along the nanobeam length direction to form side-coupled cascaded cavities, as displayed in Figs. 1(a) and 1(b). The single OMC is designed based on our previous work [36]. The period of the unit cell is 380 nm, and the width of nanobeam is 500 nm. The radius of the air hole in the mirror cell is 105 nm, and the radius of the air hole in the defect cell is 125.5 nm. Three mechanical modes with frequencies of 4.96 GHz (fundamental mode), 5.14 GHz (second mode), and 5.28 GHz (third mode) are obtained by the finite element method and their OM coupling rates (g0/2π) with the same optical mode are 0.57, 0.65, and 0.28 MHz, respectively.

Fig. 1. Nanobeam-double optomechanical cavities (OMCs). (a) Schematic of asymmetric photonic coupling of a tapered fiber contacting one end of the nanobeam-double OMCs. The distances between the tapered fiber and the two original single cavities are different, which breaks the symmetric refractive index distribution and leads to only one excited optical mode of the double cavities in (d). The inset image presents a schematic of the nanobeam-double OMCs. The green parts are cavity defect regions formed by gradually varied hole radius. The gray parts are cavity mirrors for both optical and mechanical modes. (b) Top-view scanning electron microscope (SEM) micrograph of the nanobeam-double OMCs. (c) Normalized displacement of the mechanical symmetric supermode (SSM) and antisymmetric supermode (ASM). (d) Normalized Ey of the excited optical mode by the asymmetric photonic coupling fiber. (e) Mechanical cavity coupling rate with center mirror cell quantity and center mirror radius.

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The two single OMCs are coupled through energy exchange in the center mirror region between the two cavities, leading to the emergence of mechanical supermodes. For the mechanical fundamental modes, two supermodes are categorized into the symmetric supermode (SSM) and antisymmetric supermode (ASM). The former is the mechanical modes in the two single OMCs vibrating in the same direction, and the latter is that vibrating in the opposite direction, as illustrated in Fig. 1(c). The frequency difference caused by the mode splitting between SSM and ASM reflects the mechanical coupling rate. For the proposed nanobeam-double OMCs, the mechanical coupling rate is determined by the design of the center mirror between the two cavities. The calculated mechanical coupling rate changes with the quantity and the radius of the center mirror cell, as presented in Fig. 1(e). A low mechanical coupling rate contributed considerably to the mechanical-mode coupling change monitored by the OM interaction in our system and is an essential factor in observing parity–time symmetry and sensing application. Therefore, the mechanical coupling rate is designed to approximately 1 MHz to satisfy the weak coupling condition.

When the tapered fiber is set near one end of the nanobeam [Fig. 1(a)], the symmetric distribution of the refractive index for the two optical cavities in the nanobeam structure is broken. Thus, the optical field is localized in one cavity (detailed simulation can be seen in Appendix A), as displayed in Fig. 1(d). This type of optical mode design has one advantage in that the excited optical mode can interact with both mechanical SSM and ASM.

For the proposed OMCs as a dissipative system, mechanical coupling interaction is determined not only by the mechanical coupling rate but also by the mechanical loss because the mechanical energy exchange process is influenced by various lifetimes of mechanical modes, corresponding to mechanical loss. Based on this principle, we used the optical damping (gain for blue-detuned pump) effect [37,38] to change the mechanical loss in OM interaction to control the mechanical coupling process. This process can be described by the following mechanical coupling equation:x¨1+(Γm+Γopt)x˙1+(Ωm+δΩm)2x1+Ωmkx2=F1/meff,x¨2+Γmx˙2+Ωm2x2+Ωmkx1=F2/meff,where x1 and x2 are displacements of the mechanical single cavity mode, κ is the mechanical coupling rate, meff is the effective mass of the mechanical mode, and F1 and F2 are fluctuating forces. To simplify the physical model, mechanical frequency Ωm and intrinsic loss Γm of the two modes were set to be equal. Furthermore, Γopt is the optical damping rate, and δΩm is the optical spring detuning because of OM interaction. Unlike the mechanical coupling rate, the optical damping rate and optical spring detuning were not fixed, which depended on the pump power and pump wavelength of light. The optical damping rate was considerably greater than the intrinsic mechanical loss, which provided a large-scale mechanical loss control at a high pump power [39]. Because we used blue-detuned pump light, the OM interaction generated gain instead of loss contributed to the mechanical-mode coupling change in our experiments (detailed discussions are presented in Appendix B).


In this experiment, the patterns of the designed structures were defined by using electron beam lithography (EBL), and then these patterns were transferred to the device layer of silicon-on-insulator (SOI) chips using inductively coupled plasma (ICP) etching. Afterward, buffered hydrofluoric (BHF) acid was used to remove the buried oxide layer and form suspended structures.

After the fabrication process, we measured the mechanical coupling of the fabricated nanobeam-double OMCs by using the experimental setup in Fig. 2(a). The optical modes of the nanobeam-double OMCs were detected by using a tapered fiber on one end of the nanobeam. According to the Lorentz fitting of the spectrum at 20  dBm of pump power [Fig. 2(b)], the intrinsic optical Q factor for the fabricated cavity was 86,000. The mechanical spectrum information was obtained by analyzing the power spectral density (PSD) of the output light transmission. Figure 2(c) displays the PSD results at a pump power of 0 dBm. The mechanical fundamental mode and two high-order modes are observed in the spectrum. Inside the resonance peak of the fundamental mode, two mechanical modes were obtained for the two mechanical-mode couplings, as displayed in the inset of Fig. 2(c), which is the enlarged image of the fundamental mode. By placing the tapered fiber on the other end of nanobeam, the previous two peaks were still observed, which proved the mechanical-mode coupling between two cavities (see Appendix A for details).

Fig. 2. Experimental setup and optical and mechanical results. (a) Schematic of the experimental setup for mechanical and optical measurement. (b) Optical transmission spectrum with laser power of 20, 0, and 5 dBm. (c) Power spectral density (PSD) for the three types of mechanical modes observed in the spectrum analyzer. The inset displays the detailed PSD of the fundamental modes. The dotted lines are the fitting results reflecting two mechanical-mode couplings.

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We measured the OM tuning of the nanobeam-double OMCs by changing the pump light power and wavelength. Figure 3(a) displays the coupling process of the two mechanical modes by changing the pump wavelength. The difference in two resonance peaks representing mechanical eigen frequencies at the beginning decreases and then increases when the pump laser wavelength shifts toward red. This result can be explained by the OM gain effect (theoretical details are shown in Appendix B). By fitting the power spectrum of the two coupled mechanical resonators, we plotted the non-Hermitian parameter space diagram of two mechanical-mode eigen frequencies for various pump powers and wavelengths. The smallest mechanical eigen frequency difference decreased from 2.0 MHz at a pump power of 0 dBm to 1.0 MHz at a pump power of 5 dBm. This result revealed that the frequency difference of the symmetric and antisymmetric mechanical mode was tuned to diminish in the parameter space. This phenomenon can provide guidance for obtaining microscopic mechanical parity–time symmetry (see Appendix B for details) for topology [14] and on-chip high-sensitivity sensors [34,35].

Fig. 3. Optical control of the two mechanical-mode couplings. (a) Normalized mechanical power spectrum density for various pump wavelengths. The red dashed lines reveal the resonance frequencies of two coupled modes. The inset presents an enlarged view of the mechanical spectrum at laser wavelength of 1551.04 nm with the two-component fits. (b) The non-Hermitian parameter space diagram of mechanical-mode coupling with pump power and pump wavelength. The blue and yellow sheets each represent a mechanical mode.

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We observed the OM interaction and thermal nonlinear effect [40] simultaneously with the increase in pump power. The thermal effect [41] is a common phenomenon in high-Q optical cavities caused by dielectric absorption. In the low-power regime for the driving laser, the optical resonance frequency depends on the laser wavelength, as displayed in the asymmetric transmission spectrum in Fig. 2(b). When the laser power exceeded a critical point, the system operated in a bistable region in which the optical energy in the cavity exhibited two possibilities determined by the driving process. The influence of the thermal bistable phenomenon on OM interaction was circumvented by adiabatically tuning the pump wavelength and power. However, the operation becomes complex when the pump power increases further. The thermal effect enhanced the driving of the bistable region to the self-oscillation region. In this case, the optical energy in the cavity oscillated with a frequency of approximately 20 MHz. The oscillations were determined by material properties and structure geometry (a detailed discussion is given in Appendix C). As the optical energy affects the OM interaction, in the self-oscillation region, the OM interaction and thermal nonlinear effect mixed and determined the complete dynamical characteristic of the system. In the mechanical power spectrum, multi-peaks appeared at approximately the mechanical-mode resonance frequencies when the system was driven across the border of the self-oscillation region [Fig. 4(a)]. These peak signals were caused by the thermal nonlinear effect and moved in the frequency domain with the variation in laser wavelength. Near the border of the self-oscillation region, the mechanical signals decreased rapidly, which revealed that OM interaction decreased. This phenomenon can be qualitatively explained as follows: in a thermal self-oscillation period, averaged optical energy in the cavity was less than that in the steady state. Although OM interaction was affected by the thermal nonlinear effect, the two coupled mechanical modes were distinguished by the asymmetric resonance peak in the frequency spectrum near the mechanical mode, as displayed in Fig. 4(b). In this case, the mechanical couplings in the stable and self-oscillation regions are denoted with black and red lines, respectively.

Fig. 4. (a) Thermal oscillation PSD of the nanobeam-double OMCs for various optical wavelengths. The gray and pink regions refer to the thermal stable state and thermal self-oscillation, respectively. (b) Mechanical-mode coupling in the stable region (black line) and self-oscillation region (red lines). The blue dashed lines indicate two mechanical modes.

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In this study, we realized tunable mechanical-mode coupling by using nanobeam-double OMCs. The mechanical coupling process can be controlled with the OM gain inside the optically pumped cavity by breaking the optical spatial symmetry in the proposed structure. The frequency difference of the SSM and ASM was tuned to diminish from 2.0 to 1.0 MHz by changing the power and wavelength of the pump laser in experiment and was further limited by the opto-thermal self-sustained oscillation phenomenon. The tuning of the mechanical-mode coupling based on our demonstrated double OMCs can be used in parity–time symmetry, quantum information, high-sensitivity EP sensing, and mechanical synchronization.

6 Acknowledgment

Acknowledgment. The authors thank Tianjin H-Chip Technology Group Corporation, Innovation Center of Advanced Optoelectronic Chip, and Institute for Electronics and Information Technology in Tianjin, Tsinghua University, for their fabrication support with EBL and ICP etching.

Q.X. designed the structure and conducted the experiments, and Q.X. and K.C. analyzed the experimental results. K.C. and Q.X. conceived the study. K.C. and Y.H. supervised the project. K.C. and Q.X. wrote the paper. N.W., X.F., F.L., W.Z., and Y.H. discussed the results and reviewed the paper.


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Qiancheng Xu, Kaiyu Cui, Ning Wu, Xue Feng, Fang Liu, Wei Zhang, Yidong Huang. Tunable mechanical-mode coupling based on nanobeam-double optomechanical cavities[J]. Photonics Research, 2022, 10(8): 1819.

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