3D-Printed Photodetectors Could Be Basis for 'Bionic Eye'

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A University of Minnesota research team has 3D-printed an array of light receptors on a hemispherical surface, in a first step toward creating a “bionic eye” that could someday help blind people see or sighted people see better.

Using their custom-built 3D printer, the researchers started with a base ink of silver particles. The ink, when dispensed on the surface of a hemispherical glass dome, stayed in place and dried uniformly instead of running down the curved surface. The researchers then used semiconducting polymer materials to 3D-print photodiodes, which convert light into electricity. The high-performance polymer-based photodetectors were characterized, and the devices were integrated into image sensing arrays with high sensitivity and wide field of view.

3d-printed 'bionic eye' prototype from the University of Minnesota.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have fully 3D-printed an image sensing array on a hemisphere, which is a first-of-its-kind prototype for a “bionic eye.” Courtesy of University of Minnesota, McAlpine Group.

Professor Michael McAlpine, leader of the research team, said the most surprising part of the process was the 25 percent efficiency — a level comparable to that of microfabricated counterparts — that the team achieved when converting the light into electricity with the fully 3D-printed semiconductors.

“We have a long way to go to routinely print active electronics reliably, but our 3D-printed semiconductors are now starting to show that they could potentially rival the efficiency of semiconducting devices fabricated in microfabrication facilities,” McAlpine said. “Plus, we can easily print a semiconducting device on a curved surface, and they can’t.”

The 3D-printed optoelectronic devices could allow for flexibility in the design and manufacturing of next-generation wearable and 3D-structured optoelectronics — in addition to validating the potential of 3D printing to achieve high-performance, integrated, active electronic materials and devices.

McAlpine said the next steps would be be to create a bionic eye prototype with more light receptors and even greater efficiency. The team would also like to investigate printing on a soft hemispherical material that could be implanted into a real eye.

The research was published in Advanced Materials (doi: 10.1002/adma.201803980).

This video shows the 3D-printing process for directly and fully 3D-printing an array of interconnected semiconducting photodiode (light receptor) devices on a glass hemisphere. Courtesy of University of Minnesota, McAlpine Group.

Published: August 2018
Optoelectronics is a branch of electronics that focuses on the study and application of devices and systems that use light and its interactions with different materials. The term "optoelectronics" is a combination of "optics" and "electronics," reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of this field. Optoelectronic devices convert electrical signals into optical signals or vice versa, making them crucial in various technologies. Some key components and applications of optoelectronics include: ...
3d printing
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), is a manufacturing process that builds three-dimensional objects layer by layer from a digital model. This technology allows the creation of complex and customized structures that would be challenging or impossible with traditional manufacturing methods. The process typically involves the following key steps: Digital design: A three-dimensional digital model of the object is created using computer-aided design (CAD) software. This...
Ophthalmology is a branch of medicine that focuses on the anatomy, physiology, and diseases of the eyes and visual system. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of eye disorders and diseases. They are trained to provide comprehensive eye care, including medical, surgical, and optical interventions. Key areas within ophthalmology include: General eye care: Ophthalmologists perform routine eye examinations to assess visual acuity,...
Research & TechnologyAmericaseducationUniversity of MinnesotaLight SourcesMaterialsOpticsoptoelectronicsphotodetectorsphotodiodes3d printingbionic eyeophthalmologymedicalBiophotonicssemiconductorsBioScan

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