Turning up the Light in Africa

Brilliant minds convened at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble during the entire week of 16-20 November, 2015, to lay the groundwork for an eventual African Light Source (AfLS).  There are approximately fifty light sources worldwide, with some laboratories possessing more than one.  As seen in the figure below, Africa is the only habitable continent in the world without a light source, and addressing this shortcoming is what served as the impetus for the AfLS meeting.

Locations of Light Sources. Credit: lightsources.org.

Locations of Light Sources. Credit: lightsources.org.

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Radiology: Combining Quantum Theory, Medicine, and Artistic Vision

The medical specialty of Radiology is intimately connected to the themes of the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies 2015 (IYL 2015). More than any other profession, radiologists and radiologic technologists put theoretical quantum physics to practical use to improve the health and lives of their patients. Although quantum light theory can explain everything from the tiniest subatomic particles to immense galaxy-devouring black holes, radiologists apply this technology at the human level to diagnose and treat disease and thus alleviate human suffering.

More than 100 years ago in 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen discovered a form of radiation which had strange new properties. These new rays were so unique and mysterious that he named them “X-rays”, for the unknown. Although often described as a fortuitous discovery, chance favors the prepared mind, and Roentgen’s astute observations back then are still accurate today.

Digital portrait of Wilhelm Roentgen holding a cathode ray tube. Credit: Mark Hom using a Wacom Pen & Touch tablet and Xara software.

Digital portrait of Wilhelm Roentgen holding a cathode ray tube. Credit: Mark Hom using a Wacom Pen & Touch tablet and Xara software.

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Crystalline Supermirrors: from concept to reality

Here I provide a brief overview of how two scientists from the University of Vienna stumbled upon an enabling technology, born from “blue sky” research in the burgeoning field of quantum optomechanics, and made a successful transition from academia to industry. The fruit of this endeavor is “Crystalline Mirror Solutions,” or CMS, a high-tech start-up commercializing high-performance optics for laser-based precision measurement and manufacturing systems. Although it was not apparent at the outset, there were ultimately two key elements that led to the success of this endeavor: The first was of course the conception of the basic technology itself, while the second relied on effective “local” infrastructure and funding organizations to ultimately bring this idea out of the laboratory and to the commercial market.

Artist's rendition of an optical cavity employing crystalline supermirrors. Credit: Brad Baxley, parttowhole.com

Artist’s rendition of an optical cavity employing crystalline
supermirrors. Credit: Brad Baxley, parttowhole.com

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Optical chips are looking under your skin?

Is the 21st century the era of photonics? Photonic technologies such as optical chips can revolutionize our future since they have many applications not only in the field of telecommunications but also in healthcare and life science, security, lighting and displays. Here is an interesting story about how optical chips can be considered as a way to improve healthcare systems and more specifically increasing the chance for skin cancer curing by aiding early detection.

An example of nodular BBC lesion and its OCT image. The image in between shows where the OCT scan was performed. Credit: M. Mogensen et al 2009 (5).

An example of nodular BBC lesion and its OCT image. The image in between shows where the OCT scan was performed. Credit: M. Mogensen et al 2009 (5).

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Using Light for Manufacturing and Analysis

Two challenging issues in biological testing are devices’ portability and to using as little sample as possible. With this framework in mind, lab-on-a-chip devices play a major role, as they aim to integrate most of the facilities of a biology or chemistry laboratory in just a few millimeters device. They are basically made of micrometer size channels, where samples are separated, selected and mixed, and they also integrate some kind of testing system to analyze them. Optofluidic devices are a particular type of lab-on-a-chip device where light is used to test and handle samples. The use of light to analyze biological samples is widely spread as it is fast, highly accurate and, in some particular cases, allows for the analysis of samples after undergoing some pre-treatment  which might change its properties.

Among the several technologies used to build optofluidic devices micromachining with femtosecond lasers is quite promising, as it allows to produce both the micrometer channels for fluid sample travelling and the optical networks needed for analysis. Thanks to its unique 3D capabilities, the channels can be integrated with the optical networks using the same laser. Although this technology is not suitable for mass-producing labs-on-a-chip, it is quite interesting in the fast prototyping of new devices  as you have an idea and you can make and test your device in a few hours. If you are satisfied with the outcome, you can then think about mass producing the device using a different technique, such as photolithography.

3D rendering of the monolithic optical stretcher fabricated by femtosecond laser micromachining. The cells flowing in the microchannel are trapped and stretched in correspondence of the dual beam trap created by the optical waveguides. Connections to capillaries and optical fibers are also shown. Credit: OSA

3D rendering of the monolithic optical stretcher fabricated by femtosecond laser micromachining. The cells flowing in the microchannel are trapped and stretched in correspondence of the dual beam trap created by the optical waveguides. Connections to capillaries and optical fibers are also shown. Credit: OSA

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