CELL BIOLOGY: Nanowire development enables cell-penetrating laser beams

A development in nanowires can generate laser beams small enough to penetrate living cells, facilitating work in killing viruses or in purifying drinking water.

Zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowire waveguide lasers have lacked the p-type material that would make them useful for real-world light emission applications. But a team of researchers led by Jianlin Liu, professor of electrical engineering at University of California, Riverside, have overcome this by doping the nanowires with antimony.1 Connecting the resulting p-type nanowires with n-type ZnO material to form a p-n junction diode enables the devices to be powered by a battery and emit highly directional laser light from only the ends of the wires.

While Liu and his students have demonstrated the p-type doping of ZnO and electrically powered nanowire waveguide lasing in the ultraviolet range, he said more work still needs to be done with the stability and reliability of the p-type material. Still, the work is intriguing for its implications.

1. S. Chu et al., Nature Nanotechnol., doi:10.1038/nnano.2011.97 (2011).

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