Dissipation is a ubiquitous phenomenon in dynamical systems encountered in nature because no finite system is fully isolated from its environment. In optical systems, a key challenge facing any technological application has traditionally been the mitigation of optical losses. Recent work has shown that a new class of optical materials that consist of a precisely balanced distribution of loss and gain can be exploited to engineer novel functionalities for propagating and filtering electromagnetic radiation. Here we show a generic property of optical systems that feature an unbalanced distribution of loss and gain, described by non-normal operators, namely, that an overall lossy optical system can transiently amplify certain input signals by several orders of magnitude. We present a mathematical framework to analyze the dynamics of wave propagation in media with an arbitrary distribution of loss and gain, and we construct the initial conditions to engineer such non-normal power amplifiers. Our results point to a new design space for engineered optical systems employed in photonics and quantum optics.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- General Physics and Astronomy