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Patent Review: Nanotechnology in Optics

Nerac analyst Jerry Burke looks at some recent patents involving the use of nanomaterials in optical devices.
16 July 2008, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.2200807.0003

Jerry Burke, Nerac analyst   Nerac logo

Nanotechnology is this decade's buzz word, gathering momentum in just about every area of research. These materials are becoming common in optical sensors, too, and a whole field of nanoscale optics is developing, though that is not considered in this patent review.

Nanomaterials are used to enhance various linear and nonlinear responses such as Raman Scattering. Nanoparticles are being used to improve the temperature stability of an optical polymer across a broad range. And optical methods are being developed to sort and manipulate nanomaterials, as described, for example, by patent US6974927, Method and system for optically sorting and/or manipulating carbon nanotubes, in which an optical dipole trap is created with a focused light source such as a laser.

Here are some of the more recent patent applications and granted patents involving the uses of nanomaterials in an optical device or format other than sensors.

Patent Application 20070140638/US: Nanowires and Nanoribbons as Subwavelength Optical Waveguides and Their Use as Components in Photonic Circuits and Devices.

Nanoribbons and nanowires having diameters less than the wavelength of light are used in the formation and operation of optical circuits and devices. Such nanostructures function as subwavelength optical waveguides, which form a fundamental building block for optical integration. The extraordinary length, flexibility and strength of these structures enable their manipulation on surfaces, including the precise positioning and optical linking of nanoribbon/wire waveguides and other nanoribbon/wire elements to form optical networks and devices. In addition, such structures provide for waveguiding in liquids, enabling them to further be used in other applications such as optical probes and sensors.

Patent Application 20070298242/US: Lenses Having Dispersed Metal Nanoparticles for Optical Filtering Including Sunglasses.

Lenses appropriate for use as sunglasses and other optical filtering devices include one or more composite layers including metal nanoparticles dispensed in a polymer matrix. The entire lens can be a single layer of the composite or the composite can be a coating on one or both faces of the lens. Gold nanoparticles can be dispersed in a poly(methylmethacrylate) or polycarbonate polymer at 0.01 to 1 weight percent.

Patent 2008025966/WO: Optical Nanomaterial Compositions.

The invention provides compositions ("Optical Nanomaterial Compositions") comprising one or more nanomaterials and an optical coupling gel or an optical adhesive. The invention also provides methods for using the Optical Nanomaterial Compositions as an index-matching gel, an optical adhesive or an optical film, all of which are suitable for optical and sensing devices applications, including noise suppression, passive Q-switching, mode-locking, waveform shaping, optical switching, optical signal regeneration, phase conjugation, in filter devices, dispersion compensation, wavelength conversion, soliton stabilization, microcavity applications, in interferometers (such as the Gires-Tournois interferometer), optical, magneto-optical or electro-optical modulation, biochemical sensors and photodetectors.

Patent 7,315,374: Real-Time Monitoring Optically Trapped Carbon Nanotubes.

An embodiment of this invention is a technique to monitor carbon nanotubes. A carbon nanotube is manipulated in a fluid by a laser beam. An illuminating light from a light source is aligned along axis of the nanotubes to produce an optical response from it. The carbon nanotube is monitored using an optical sensor according to the optical response.

Patent Application 2008113448/US: Fluorescent Carbon Nanoparticles.

This patent discloses photoluminescent particles that include a core nano-sized particle of carbon and a passivation agent bound to the surface of the nanoparticle. The passivation agent can be, for instance, a polymeric material. The passivation agent can also be derivatized for particular applications. For example, the photoluminescent carbon nanoparticles can be derivatized to recognize and bind to a target material, for instance a biologically active material, a pollutant, or a surface receptor on a tissue or cell surface, such as in a tagging or staining protocol.

Nerac Analyst Jerry Burke's primary focus is medical devices and optics. He has 45 years of experience in engineering and research and development, beginning as an apprentice toolmaker at Pratt and Whitney Aircraft. He has been involved with developing fiber optic devices used in imaging and illumination for customers including NASA, the military, universities, and research groups such as Lawrence Livermore Labs. For the Navy, he developed a remote inspection system for jet engines using fiber-optic endoscopes and electrochemical sensors to evaluate the life cycle of certain portions of the engine. He also developed the eyes for a robot used to inspect nuclear plant heat exchangers, endoscope accessories for urology markets, and an umbilical and wand to deliver laser energy to patients for hair depletion.

Nerac analysts deliver custom assessments in the following areas:

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