Towards high-speed imaging of infrared photons with bio-inspired nanoarchitectures

Scientists at the research arm of General Electric have developed a heat sensor that consists of wings of the Morpho butterfly coated with single-walled carbon nanotubes. The device detects mid-wave infrared light with a precision of less than 0.06° C at a rate of about 40 Hz. GE believes the technology can be used in future medical imaging devices for visualizing inflammation and for thermal characterization of wounds.GE-butterfly-heat-sensor

Here’s more from Radislav Potyrailo, the lead scientist of the study:

Starting from our initial experiments in early 2008 and followed by more detailed studies over 2009 – 2010, we have found that scales of Morpho butterfly wings can serve as low thermal mass optical resonators and rapidly respond to temperature changes with very high sensitivity.

Our team has found that in these resonators, the optical cavity is modulated by its thermal expansion and refractive index change, resulting in conversion of infrared heat into visible iridescence changes. We further decorated the Morpho butterfly scales with single-walled carbon nanotubes and achieved heat detection with the temperature resolution of 0.02 – 0.06oC and 35 – 40 Hz response rate without the need to use a heat sink for heat removal. In the thermographic image below you can see me first holding and then breathing onto a Morpho butterfly.

The nanoscale pitch and the extremely small thermal mass of individual “pixels” of this Morphobutterfly nanostructure promise significant improvements compared to existing detectors in the cost of detectors, response speed, temperature resolution, the ability to obtain more crisp thermal images, and to have thermal images from different infrared spectral regions – all these factors being critical for the much broader acceptance of thermal imaging technologies in consumer electronic products.

Existing infrared detectors rely on complex microfabrication and thermal management methods. Here, we report an attractive platform of low-thermal-mass resonators inspired by the architectures of iridescent Morpho butterfly scales. In these resonators, the optical cavity is modulated by its thermal expansion and refractive index change, resulting in ‘wavelength conversion’ of mid-wave infrared (3–8 µm) radiation into visible iridescence changes. By doping Morpho butterfly scales with single-walled carbon nanotubes, we achieved mid-wave infrared detection with 18–62 mK noise-equivalent temperature difference and 35–40 Hz heat-sink-free response speed. The nanoscale pitch and the extremely small thermal mass of individual ‘pixels’ promise significant improvements over existing detectors. Computational analysis explains the origin of this thermal response and guides future conceptually new bio-inspired thermal imaging sensor designs.

Source:http://www.nature.com/nphoton/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nphoton.2011.355.html

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