By Gail Overton and Valerie Coffey, Small Times guest contributors
September 7, 2007 — SPIE’s Optics + Photonics show, held August 26-30, 2007, emphasized nano and solar technologies, “which are immensely important to our future,” said Akhlesh Lakhtakia, professor of engineering science and mechanics at Pennsylvania State University and editor of SPIE’s Journal of Nanophotonics, which explores the fabrication and application of nanostructures that generate or manipulate light. “But this emphasis on the nano and solar future has its feet firmly planted in the past glories and ongoing research in optics and photonics, a foundation from which all future technologies emerge,” continued Lakhtakia, who was among the event’s plenary speakers.
His presentation, titled “Brave New Nanoworld, without Apologies to Aldous Huxley” discussed the societal issues surrounding nanotechnology and educational strategies necessary for students and the general public to embrace its “socially transformative power.”
The event began, however, with an all-conference plenary consisting of two presentations; the first on “Technology to Enable our Solar Technology Future” by Thomas Feist, manager of the Thin Films Laboratory in Micro and Nano Structures Technologies at GE Global Research, the second on “The Concept of the Photon: Updated” by Marlon O. Scully of Texas A&M and Princeton University. Feist explained that the adoption of new solar-energy technologies will be speeded by systems that seamlessly integrate with existing building architectures such as the use of photovoltaic (PV) roof tiles and organic PV window glass. Feist applauded the Solar America Initiative being led by the U.S. Department of Energy, and provided an overview of the organic and inorganic solar-energy technologies such as roll-to-roll compatible dye-sensitized solar cells and classic silicon or crystalline PV technologies, respectively, that have the potential to achieve 80% conversion efficiencies.
The six nano-focused plenary sessions began with a visually exciting presentation on “Optically Driven Mechanical Micro/Nanosystems in Classical and Quantum Realms” by professor Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop, head of the School of Physical Sciences and a Director of the Centre for Biophotonics and Laser Science at the University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia). Her many videos displayed in real time the optically induced rotation of birefringent calcium carbonate nanoparticle spheres and other nanomachines within fluids by using the orbital angular momentum of light. Even though Rubinsztein-Dunlop pointed out that renowned Caltech researcher Richard Feynman said that we don’t have to be useful (when it comes to working in the field of nanotechnology), we can just have fun (which these videos certainly are), she also explained how the properties of these spinning nanoparticles can be used to non-invasively determine the viscosity of fluids in the eye and even of intra-cellular fluids–a tiny “microviscometer” thanks to the ultra-small dimensions of these emerging nanomachines.
In the “Plastic Optoelectronics and Aligned Carbon Nanotube Devices” plenary, Professor of Nanomaterials at the University of Dayton, Liming Dai, described how polymer-infused carbon nanotubes can replicate the feet of a gecko and be used to produce smart membranes that can support tremendous weight on smooth surfaces. Even though Dai joked in his presentation that perhaps we can all be Spiderman someday, the image he displayed of a tiny membrane supporting a rather large weight as it clung tightly to a vertical piece of glass was not a joke; instead, it was a practical application of biomimetics working in concert with nanotechnology.
And if you thought being Spiderman was enough, how about the possibility of making tiny nanomachines that could undertake ‘The Fantastic Voyage’ of entering the human body and performing both diagnostic and curative tasks? Such a scenario was presented by Michael J. Heller, professor at the University of California, San Diego, who presented “Nanotechnology: New Tool for Diagnostics and Treatment of Cancer.” Heller discussed how in-vivo “Motherships” are being developed from a combination of specialized nanoparticles and integrated chip devices that could detect, for example, individual cancer cells and deliver chemotherapy agents directly to the affected cells.
New product announcements at Optics + Photonics 2007 included the MicroPhase three-dimensional topography solution from PhaseView-USA, a low-cost profiling system based on patented Digital Phase Technology that can measure in the nanometer range and be retrofitted to existing microscopes.
Gail Overton is Associate Editor and Valerie Coffey is Senior Editor at Laser Focus World, a sister publication to Small Times.