Nanolasers may offer new options for efficient biosensors

Researchers at the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois have developed tiny nanolasers that are capable of sensing and relaying information about the human body in an even much more discreet and non-invasive manner.

Lasers are a pretty common thing in medicine. They are used in a wide variety of applications, from scanning and diagnosis, to direct treatment via targeting selected tissues. The issue, however, is that these applications are usually made only for specific situations, as lasers often have the inherent risk of unintended damage and excess heat generation.

This research attempts to provide a new method of using lasers for the same type of applications. However, instead of configuring traditional lasers, the team opted instead to use a nanolaser device, which is measured at 50 to 150 nanometers thick. For comparison, the average human hair is about 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers wide, which makes these lasers far too tiny for the human naked eye to see properly.

Because it is primarily made of glass, the nanolaser device can be implanted almost undetected by the human body. The laser that it generates is also configured to be “biocompatible”, in a way that “operate at powers that are orders of magnitude smaller than observed in any existing lasers”.

In other words, it is a potentially perfect, low-profile laser that can be used for a wide variety of monitoring and scanning applications for the human body.

Traditional laser-based medical scanning procedures typically use longer wavelengths, in order for the external device to penetrate deeper into the patient’s body. The nanolasers instead use a special modification procedure for its shorter light wavelengths, known as “photon upconversion”. Using this method, low-energy photons can be “collected together” so that it can be re-emitted as a single photon of a higher energy level.

While the research clearly advertises the technology’s potential in future biological imaging, there is also one particular line that mentions its potential in electronics. Apparently, due to its compatibility in “extremely confined spaces”, the nanolasers may conceivably be also used in quantum circuits and microprocessors. A new potential type of power-efficient photonic data relay perhaps?

Notably, the research has mentioned that this achievement is hardly the first time nanolasers were developed. Previous attempts by earlier research studies have been made, but without the “photon upconversion” procedure, none of these were efficient enough to have potential practical applications.

Featured Image credit by CMRF Crumlin via Flickr

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