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Scientists have figured out how to embed light-emitting nanoparticles into glass

Change the way you see the world.

DAVID NIELD
8 JUN 2016
 

Imagine a window with a weather forecast displayed right on top of it, or a bathroom mirror that could scroll through your emails while you brush your teeth. While early versions of this kind of tech already exist, new research has brought us a big step closer to manufacturing true smart glass.

Australian scientists have developed glass panes with the ability to emit light and display information without losing any of the natural properties of glass. It all comes down to how transparent they can get their glass, and the way it can be moulded into any shape, and the team has figured out how to do this using nanoparticles.

 

Researchers led by the University of Adelaide have found a way to embed microscopic, light-emitting nanoparticles into glass, opening up possibilities for new hybrid materials and devices where transparent displays could be useful.

The team embedded the nanoparticles into glass using a new technique called 'direct-doping', which works by synthesising the nanoparticles and the glass separately, before combining them under precisely cultivated conditions – involving temperatures of up to 625°C.

This careful integration means both the nanoparticles and the glass retain most of their original characteristics. And compared to previous methods for making smart glass, the new technique is simpler, more efficient and more adaptable, Brooks Hays reports for UPI.

One example of how these fluorescent nanoparticles could be used is tiny torches in neuroscience. These devices could help guide glass pipettes into specific regions of the brain – a process that currently relies on dye and lasers to find the right spot. 

In nuclear facilities, radiation-sensitive nanoparticles inserted into glass could be used to create more accurate remote sensors.

The team is now focusing on biological sensing, biomedical imaging, and 3D volumetric displays - hologram-like creations drawn with light - but there's a whole host of possibilities that this technology could be used for.

 

"These novel luminescent nanoparticles, called upconversion nanoparticles, have become promising candidates for a whole variety of ultra-high tech applications," explained one of the team, physicist Tim Zhao.

"Integrating these nanoparticles into glass, which is usually inert, opens up exciting possibilities for new hybrid materials and devices that can take advantage of the properties of nanoparticles in ways we haven't been able to do before."

While the process developed in Australia involves this specific type of nanoparticles, the team thinks it could be expanded to include nanoparticles with other photonic, electronic, and magnetic properties, widening the potential applications of the technology even further.

"The nanoparticles remain functional and the glass transparency is still very close to its original quality," said project leader Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem. "We are heading towards a whole new world of hybrid glass and devices for light-based technologies."

The research is published in Advanced Optical Materials.

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