Technology could lead to new way of doing ‘lab on a chip’ medical diagnostics
Northwestern University scientists have developed the first liquid nanoscale laser. And it’s tunable in real time, meaning you can quickly and simply produce different colors, a unique and useful feature. The laser technology could lead to practical applications, such as a new form of a “lab on a chip” for medical diagnostics.
To understand the concept, imagine a laser pointer whose color can be changed simply by changing the liquid inside it, instead of needing a different laser pointer for every desired color.
In addition to changing color in real time, the liquid nanolaser has additional advantages over other nanolasers: it is simple to make, inexpensive to produce and operates at room temperature.
Nanoscopic lasers — first demonstrated in 2009 — are only found in research labs today. They are, however, of great interest for advances in technology and for military applications.
“Our study allows us to think about new laser designs and what could be possible if they could actually be made,” said Teri W. Odom, who led the research. “My lab likes to go after new materials, new structures and new ways of putting them together to achieve things not yet imagined. We believe this work represents a conceptual and practical engineering advance for on-demand, reversible control of light from nanoscopic sources.”
Odom is Board of Lady Managers of the Columbian Exposition Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
The findings were published this week by the journal Nature Communications.
The liquid nanolaser in this study is not a laser pointer but a laser device on a chip, Odom explained. The laser’s color can be changed in real time when the liquid dye in the microfluidic channel above the laser’s cavity is changed.
The laser’s cavity is made up of an array of reflective gold nanoparticles, where the light is concentrated around each nanoparticle and then amplified. (In contrast to conventional laser cavities, no mirrors are required for the light to bounce back and forth.) Notably, as the laser color is tuned, the nanoparticle cavity stays fixed and does not change; only the liquid gain around the nanoparticles changes.
The main advantages of very small lasers are:
- They can be used as on-chip light sources for optoelectronic integrated circuits;
- They can be used in optical data storage and lithography;
- They can operate reliably at one wavelength; and
- They should be able to operate much faster than conventional lasers because they are made from metals.