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  1. Photonic time-varying systems have attracted significant attention owing to their rich physics and potential opportunities for new and enhanced functionalities. In this context, the duality of space and time in wave physics has been particularly fruitful to uncover interesting physical effects in the temporal domain, such as reflection/refraction at temporal interfaces and momentum-bandgaps in time crystals. However, the characteristics of the temporal/frequency dimension, particularly its relation to causality and energy conservation (ℏ<#comment/>ω<#comment/>is energy, whereasℏ<#comment/>kis momentum), create challenges and constraints that are unique to time-varying systems and are not present in their spatially varying counterparts. Here, we overview two key physical aspects of time-varying photonics that have only received marginal attention so far, namely temporal dispersion and external power requirements, and explore their implications. We discuss how temporal dispersion, an inherent property of any physical causal material, makes the fields evolve continuously at sharp temporal interfaces and may limit the strength of fast temporal modulations and of various resulting effects. Furthermore, we show that changing the refractive index in time always involves large amounts of energy. We derive power requirements to observe a time-crystal response in one of the most popular material platforms in time-varying photonics,more »i.e., transparent conducting oxides, and we argue that these effects are almost always obscured by less exotic nonlinear phenomena. These observations and findings shed light on the physics and constraints of time-varying photonics, and may guide the design and implementation of future time-modulated photonic systems.

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  2. Spaceplates are novel flat-optic devices that implement the optical response of a free-space volume over a smaller length, effectively “compressing space” for light propagation. Together with flat lenses such as metalenses or diffractive lenses, spaceplates have the potential to enable the miniaturization of any free-space optical system. While the fundamental and practical bounds on the performance metrics of flat lenses have been well studied in recent years, a similar understanding of the ultimate limits of spaceplates is lacking, especially regarding the issue of bandwidth, which remains as a crucial roadblock for the adoption of this platform. In this work, we derive fundamental bounds on the bandwidth of spaceplates as a function of their numerical aperture and compression ratio (ratio by which the free-space pathway is compressed). The general form of these bounds is universal and can be applied and specialized for different broad classes of space-compression devices, regardless of their particular implementation. Our findings also offer relevant insights into the physical mechanism at the origin of generic space-compression effects and may guide the design of higher performance spaceplates, opening new opportunities for ultra-compact, monolithic, planar optical systems for a variety of applications.

  3. Causality—the principle stating that the output of a system cannot temporally precede the input—is a universal property of nature. Here, we show that analogous input-output relations can also be realized in the spectral domain by leveraging the peculiar properties of time-modulated non-Hermitian photonic systems. Specifically, we uncover the existence of a broad class of complex time-modulated metamaterials that obey the time-domain equivalent of the well-established frequency-domain Kramers–Kronig relations (a direct consequence of causality). We find that, in the scattering response of such time-modulated systems, the output frequencies are inherently prohibited from spectrally preceding the input frequencies, and hence we refer to these systems as “spectrally causal.” We explore the consequences of this newly introduced concept for several relevant applications, including broadband perfect absorption, temporal cloaking of an “event,” and truly unidirectional propagation along a synthetic dimension. By emulating the concept of causality in the spectral domain and providing new tools to extend the field of temporally modulated metamaterials (“chrono-metamaterials”) into the complex realm, our findings may open unexplored opportunities and enable relevant technological advances in various areas of photonics and, more broadly, of wave physics and engineering.

  4. Metalenses have shown great promise in their ability to function as ultracompact optical systems for focusing and imaging. Remarkably, several designs have been recently demonstrated that operate over a large range of frequencies with minimized chromatic aberrations, potentially paving the way for ultrathin achromatic optics. Here, we derive fundamental bandwidth limits that apply to broadband optical metalenses regardless of their implementation. Specifically, we discuss how the product between achievable time delay and bandwidth is limited in any time-invariant system, and we apply well-established bounds on this product to a general focusing system. We then show that all metalenses designed thus far obey the appropriate bandwidth limit. The derived physical bounds provide a useful metric to compare and assess the performance of different devices, and they offer fundamental insight into how to design better broadband metalenses.