Paras N. Prasad has a lot to say about nanophotonics. So much, in fact, that his plenary talk on “Photonics’ Pivotal Role in the Nano/Bio/Info Revolution: New Interfaces” during the OPTO part of SPIE Photonics West 2009 ran over – and he didn’t even get to mention everything in his abstract.
Prasad is a distinguished professor of chemistry, physics, medicine and electrical engineering at State University of New York at Buffalo, where he holds the Samuel P. Capen chair. He also is executive director of the Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics.
In his talk Tuesday, he expressed his excitement over the potential “high societal impact” inherent in the field of nanophotonics – excitement that appeared to extend to all areas of the field.
“New dimensions of photonics keep emerging,” he added. Nanophotonics, biophotonics and photonics information technology will benefit from current research, including multiphoton up- and down-conversion, photonic sensors, chiral photonics, spin photonics and negative index photonics, he said. And the fields that will be affected include energy, health care, information technology, environmental studies, chemistry and biodefense.
Prasad focused mainly on health care, mostly because he ran out of time before he could talk about information technology.
In vitro diagnostics, he said, allows us to look at separate samples – fluids, tissue and so on – for diseases such as malaria, bird flu, meningitis, tuberculosis, HIV and HPV. “I think this is the first very near term application we will see,” he said. Flow cytometry will enable rapid, multiplexed detection of trace amounts of diseased cells or protein biomarkers.
Another exciting area for nanomedicine is in vivo diagnostics: using NIR quantum dots as probes for in vivo tumor targeting and imaging; using silicon quantum dots as biological fluorescent labels; up-converting nanophosphors for multimodal imaging; and using quantum rods for targeted bioimaging.
Prasad touched briefly on phototherapy for cancer and on gene delivery or gene silencing through nanomaterials. He and his team have a paper forthcoming on gene silencing in morphine addiction.
He also discussed the implications of nanophotonics for solar energy, especially the use of IR-absorbing quantum dots to gather energy from spectra normally “wasted” by conventional silicon photovoltaic cells, and the development of photopatternable nanocrystal quantum dots and multipods.
In terms of information technology, he was able to throw out only some keywords: communications, processing, storage and displays, obviously areas in which nanophotonics will play a part.
Prasad’s talk was fun and informative, and his enthusiasm was inspiring. With such dedicated and distinguished professionals in the field, nanophotonics is sure to have the big impact on society Prasad has predicted.
And he should know. After all, his work at the institute in Buffalo is carried out only 20 minutes from Niagara Falls, N.Y., which, he says, is “the world’s largest manufacturer of nanomaterials: nanodroplets of water.”
Laura S. Marshall