small plans: nanotechnology for the building industry

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Paint-on laser could help materials communicate

Ted Sargent carries a liquid laser in his briefcase.

Sargent, a Professor at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology, created the new laser using colloidal quantum dots — nanometre-sized particles of semiconductor that are suspended in a solvent like the particles in paint. “We’ve made a laser that can be smeared onto another material,” says Sargent.

According to Sjoerd Hoogland, a post-doctoral fellow and the first author of the paper, the laser’s most remarkable feature was its simplicity. “I made the laser by dipping a miniature glass tube in the paint and then drying it with a hairdryer,” he said. “Once the right nanoparticles are made, the procedure takes about five minutes.”

“We crystallized precisely the size of the nanoparticles that would tune the color of light coming from the laser. We chose nanoparticle size, and thus color, the way a guitarist chooses frets to select the pitch of the instrument,” Hoogland said.

The liquid laser’s primary application is in microelectronics, where it may help transfer information bits more rapidly than silicon. But the prospect of paint-on lasers certainly sounds interesting for its architectural applications.

Could paint-on lasers allow materials to send information to each other and to their users? Or perhaps their frequency could be tuned to enable common materials to emit visible light. (photo Trevor Johnston/University of Toronto)

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