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Mechanophotonics: Manipulating light through crystals

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mechanophotonics, Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM)

Mains level : Not Much

Crystals are normally rigid, stiff structures, but researchers from the University of Hyderabad have shown how crystals can be sliced and even bent using atomic force microscopy. They have named this technique as “mechanophotonics”.

The newscard discusses an out of the box technology which if brought to reality in practical use, can create immense disruptions in the technology market.

Manipulating light through crystals

  • Manipulating them with precision and control comes in very useful in the field of nanophotonics, a qualitative, emerging field.
  • The aim is to go beyond electronics and build-up circuits driven entirely by photons (light).

If the technique can be successfully developed, this can achieve an unprecedented level of miniaturisation and pave the way to all-optical-technology such as pliable, wearable devices operated by light entirely.

What Indian researchers have achieved?

: Bending light path

  • Light, when left to itself moves along straight paths, so it is crucial to develop materials and technology that can cause its path to bend along what is required in the circuits.
  • This is like using fibre optics, but at the nanoscale level using organic crystals.
  • The Hyderabad group has demonstrated how such crystals can be lifted, bent moved, transferred and sliced using atomic force microscopy.

: How?

  • Researchers add a crucial piece to the jigsaw puzzle of building an “organic photonic integrated circuit” or OPIC.
  • Generally, millimetre- to centimetre-long crystals were bent using hand-held tweezers.
  • This method lacks precision and control. Also, the crystals used were larger than what was required for miniaturisation.
  • The atomic force microscopy (AFM) cantilever tip could be used to lift a crystal, as crystals tend to stick to the tip due to tip–crystal attractive forces.
  • Thus they demonstrated the real waveguiding character of the crystal lifted with a cantilever tip.

In 2014, for the first time, the group led by Rajadurai Chandrasekar of the Functional Molecular Nano/Micro Solids Laboratory in University of Hyderabad demonstrated that tiny crystals could be lifted and moved with precision and control using atomic force microscopy.

What is Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM)?

  • AFMs are a type of electron microscope used for the observation at an atomic level.
  • It is commonly used in nanotechnology.
  • The AFM works by employing an ultra-fine needle attached to a beam.
  • The tip of the needle runs over the ridges and valleys in the material being imaged, “feeling” the surface.
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