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Fish waste creates DNA photonics

01 Dec 2005

Marine-based DNA gives a low-loss biopolymer with attractive optical properties.

Researchers in the US are busy transforming fish waste into optical components as part of a military sponsored program. The team claims that its DNA-based material has the potential to outperform current polymer-based waveguides and enhance nonlinear optical effects. (Appl. Phys. Lett. 87 211115)

"DNA is exciting because it has unique electronic and optical properties," James Grote, senior electronics research engineer at the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) told Optics.org. "It has low optical loss over a broad wavelength range [less than 1 dB/cm] and 3 to 5 orders of magnitude lower electrical resistivity than other polymers."

What's more, a byproduct of the fishing industry, the DNA material is abundant and environmentally friendly. The group prepares its DNA from salmon milt and roe sacs, treating the mix with enzymes to remove unwanted proteins.

Once dissolved in an organic solvent and filtered through a 0.2 micron pore membrane, the DNA is ready to be spin deposited onto a substrate. Tests have shown that the resulting films are stable at high temperatures, with no visible degradation up to 200 degC.

The US team, which also includes researchers from the University of Dayton and the University of Cincinnati, crosslink the DNA film in order to toughen the material and allow the fabrication of multilayer structures.

Grote says that the DNA material could be used to create everything from optical waveguides to modulators and LEDs.

"An all DNA waveguide device is possible and could potentially have lower optical losses than other polymers," he commented. "There is also promise for both passive and active all DNA devices such as electro-optic modulators."

James Tyrrell is reporter on Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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