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Microlens Arrays from a Test Tube

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POTSDAM, Germany, March 22, 2012 — Simple calcium carbonate precipitation at ambient conditions can produce microlens arrays of uniform size and focal length. This process offers a cheaper alternative to lithographic techniques used to create inorganic-based materials.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces collaborated with researchers from the University of Konstanz, the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, and the KAIST in South Korea to develop the optically functional micrometer-sized hemispherical CaCO3 structures. To create the microarrays by simple mineral precipitation, they used a saturated calcium solution and CO2 in air, along with an organic surfactant that regulates mineral formation.

Biominerals, such as seashells and bones, grow in aqueous media at ambient conditions in a genetically programmed way. The researchers discovered that, under atmospheric conditions, micrometer-sized CaCO3 structures form in a few minutes at the surface of a calcium-saturated solution. In less than two hours, the precipitate forms a thin film. The addition of organic surfactants allowed the researchers to synthesize hemispherical-shaped, uniform-sized structures.

Microlens arrays made from calcium carbonate. (Image: © Kyubock Lee, MPI of Colloids and Interfaces)

“This is such a simple and cheap process for the fabrication of high-quality microlens arrays, and you just need calcium-saturated solution with a small amount of the organic surfactant, while alternative lithographic techniques require multiple steps and a cleanroom,” said Kyubock Lee, a researcher who worked on the project at MPI of Colloids and Interfaces and at KAIST.

The scientists observed multiple images of a micron-sized “A” through the array of microlenses. The collimated light can be focused into a 1-µm spot by passing through 6-µm CaCO3 microlenses with a focal length ranging from 7 to 8 µm.

“It was very surprising when we observed that hemispherical CaCO3 structures work as micron-sized convex lenses with such a high quality,” said Wolfgang Wagermaier, a researcher at the MPI of Colloids and Interfaces. “These optical properties have not been demonstrated before with synthetic CaCO3 structures.”

The biocompatible CaCO3 is a base material for the skeletons of a large number of biological organisms. The scientists demonstrated the biocompatibility of the CaCO3 microlens arrays by seeding fibroblasts, the common connective cell tissue in animals, proving the viability of the cells of the array.

The scientists also observed that a single cell can cover multiple microlenses, signifying that CaCO3 microlens arrays combined with optics have potential for cell biology research.

“Usually it is very challenging to fully understand and mimic the biologically controlled formation of such advanced mineral structures, although it is an eventual goal of biomimetic materials research,” said Peter Fratzl, head of the biomaterials department at the MPI of Colloids and Interfaces. “The fabrication of CaCO3 microlens arrays demonstrates that the principles of self-assembly and organic controlled formation of mineral could be realized to produce advanced optical devices.”

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Mar 2012
Tiny (less than 2 mm in diameter) lenses, beamsplitters and other optical components used, for example, in endoscopes or microscopes or to focus light from semiconductor lasers and optical fibers.
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
Asia-PacificbiomineralsBiophotonicsCaCO3CaCO3 microlenscell biologyEuropefibroblastsGermanyinorganic-based materialsKAIST in South KoreaKorea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral ResourcesKyubock Leelenseslight actuation systemMax Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfacesmicro-opticsmicrolens arraysopticsPeter FratzlphotonicsResearch & TechnologyUniversity of KonstanzWolfgang Wagermaier

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