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Fabrics that can see the light

photodetecting-device fiber

Top: scanning transmission microscope images of an integrated photodetecting-device fiber consisting of conductor (Sn), insulator (PES), and semiconductor (As2Se3) components. Bottom: a spectrometric fabric created by weaving such fibers.

The integration of conductors, insulators, and semiconductors is essential for creating modern functional electronic and optoelectronic devices, such as transistors, photodetectors, LED’s, etc. These are typically produced using a variety of elaborate wafer-based processes that allow for small features but are restricted in terms of coverage area. In contrast, the technique of fiber drawing from a preformed reel or tube is simpler and yields extended lengths of highly uniform fibers with excellent optical transmission characteristics. So far, however, this technique was only possible for a very restricted class of materials. Recently, MIT MRSEC professors Joannopoulos and Fink succeeded in the design, fabrication and characterization of the first optoelectronic fiber that integrates conducting, insulating and semiconducting materials (Bayindir et al., Nature 431, 826-829, 2004). They were able to demonstrate a tunable photodetecting-device fiber that is sensitive to illumination across its entire length and can also identify the precise location of an illuminating spot. Such fibers can be woven into a patch of fabric as shown at the bottom panel of the figure below. Using this approach, it is possible to create a new class of fabric based chemical/biochemical sensors that may impact growing homeland security needs.

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