Nanostructured glass optical elements could cut medical imaging costs

Researchers at the University of Southampton have developed significantly lower cost and compact nanostructured glass optical elements for ultrahigh-resolution medical imaging.

Monolithic glass space-variant polarization converter
Monolithic glass space-variant polarization converter

Researchers at the University of Southampton (Southhampton, England) have developed significantly lower cost and compact nanostructured glass optical elements for ultra-high resolution medical imaging, such as in microscopy. The research team, led by Professor Peter Kazansky at Southhampton University's Optoelectronics Research Center, used nanostructures to develop new monolithic glass space-variant polarization converters, which generate ‘whirlpools’ of light to enable ultra-high resolution imaging, precise laser material processing, optical manipulation of atom-sized objects, table-top particle accelerators, and even optical recording.

The researchers say that at sufficient intensities, ultra-short laser pulses can be used to imprint 3-D pixel-like, tiny dots called voxels in glass. Their previous research showed that lasers with fixed polarization produce voxels consisting of a periodic arrangement of ultrathin planes tens of nanometers thick. By passing polarized light through such a voxel imprinted in silica glass, the researchers observed that it travels differently depending on the polarization orientation of the light. This ‘form birefringence’ phenomenon is the basis of their new polarization converter.

"Before this, we had to use a spatial light modulator based on liquid crystal, which cost about £20,000," says Professor Peter Kazansky. "Instead, we have just put a tiny device into the optical beam and we get the same result."

Since publication of their paper in Applied Physics Letters in May 2011, the researchers have developed the technology further and adapted it for a five-dimensional optical recording. By improving the quality and fabrication time, they developed five-dimensional memory, which allows them to store data on the glass that lasts forever, says Martynas Beresna, lead researcher for the project.

Currently, the researchers are working with Altechna (Vilnius, Lithuania) to introduce this technology to the market.

-----

Follow us on Twitter, 'like' us on Facebook, and join our group on LinkedIn

Follow OptoIQ on your iPhone; download the free app here.

Subscribe now to BioOptics World magazine; it's free!

More in Optical Coherence Tomography