News Feature | December 8, 2021

Bright Ideas — New Photonic Chip Yields Higher-Contrast Microscopy, OCT Imaging Goes Deeper Into Skin

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By Abby Proch, Electronics Editor


Imagine a camera you can hardly see (or feel) that has the capability to produce images as good as, or even better than, a traditional camera. In an article published by Nature Communications, researchers revealed a neural nano-optics imager composed of an array of nano-sized antennas that they say produces full color, wide field-of-view images (seen here). The camera relies, in part, on a differentiable learning framework that considers both the metasurface physical structure and a validated reconstruction algorithm to produce the final image. The team aspires to develop the technology for use in new applications such as endoscopy and brain imaging.

In other imaging advances, a new photonic chip may be the resolution for low-contrast brightfield microscopy images. In an article recently published in Nature Communications, researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China contend that a planar photonic chip with a tailored angular transmission as the sample substrate can help a modern microscope produce high-contrast images akin to both darkfield and total internal reflection (TIR) microscopy — with no condenser specialized objective. The team also claims that the miniaturized set up will be affordable and easy to integrate into existing systems.

Optical coherence tomography (OCT) has proven essential to diagnosing diseases of the retina, but it hasn’t been quite as useful in other applications until now. According to a report by EurekAlert!, Duke University biomedical engineers have devised a way to use OCT to image the skin at a depth previously unachieved. Using a dual axis approach, the team angles light toward a target and at an equal and opposite angle, situates the sensor. In doing so, they create a dual axis that better detects light scatter. The new method can “see” a few millimeters deeper than a direct beam of light, which has greater implications for burn damage and healing assessment as well as potential for guiding surgical procedures.

A newly-named Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Young Faculty Award recipient is combining her expertise in applied physics and light propagation to control and direct photons within a circuit — all in the pursuit of more energy efficient digital communication. According to an EurekAlert! article, University of Delaware Associate Professor Tingyi Gu accepted the $500,000 grant to pursue her research in nanophotonics and silicon photonics and employ three additional researchers that will design and build new optical devices, such as sensors used by military aircraft.   

In business news, Bridger Photonics, a photonics company specializing in gas mapping LiDAR, has secured a $9 million agreement with Diversified Energy to perform aerial scans of natural gas production and distribution pipelines and infrastructure over the next three years. Bridger uses aerial LiDAR to “detect, pinpoint, and quantify typically more than 90% of basin emissions.” Diversified Energy’s intent is to uphold a $15 million annual commitment to reducing its methane emissions.

In an agreement with the U.S. Naval Research Lab, LightPath Technologies has secured exclusive access to the lab’s distinct chalcogenide glass compositions and the remainder of the NRL’s infrared patent portfolio. LightPath produces Black Diamond BD6 glass (made of chalcogenide materials), instead of the more traditional germanium, for IR applications. The rising cost of germanium, which is largely sourced from China, and its varying availability makes chalcogenide a suitable replacement. As a commercial partner, LightPath is now positioned to support Department of Defense agencies and the Defense Industrial Base (DIB), among others.

Finally, Anello Photonics is developing an integrated Silicon Photonic Optical Gyroscope (SiPhOG), which it says is a replacement for the existing traditional Fiber Optic Gyroscope (FOG). Anello earned a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant earlier in 2021, in addition to securing $28 million of investor funding. According to Yahoo! Finance, Anello is creating the gyroscope with autonomous vehicle (AV) and aerospace applications in mind.