ADELAIDE, Australia, June 7 (UPI) -- Most smartphones have a slick, sizable piece of glass on their face. But the glass itself is not "smart" -- the intelligent components lie beneath.
That could soon change, thanks to researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia who have lent "smart potential" to glass. They've done so by embedding light-emitting nanoparticles within the glass without affecting the glass's physical properties -- its transparency and malleability, for example.
Researchers recounted their breakthrough in a new paper, published this week in the journal Advanced Optical Materials.
"These novel luminescent nanoparticles, called upconversion nanoparticles, have become promising candidates for a whole variety of ultra-high tech applications such as biological sensing, biomedical imaging and 3D volumetric displays," Tim Zhao, a physicist at Adelaide and lead author of the new study, explained in a news release.
Researchers say their "direct-doping" technique for infusing glass with upconversion nanoparticles is a simpler, more efficient and more adaptable strategy than previous attempts to grow nanoparticles within the glass. Zhao and his colleagues believe the technique -- synthesizing glass and nanoparticle separately before combining them -- could be used to embed a variety of nanoparticles.
"If we infuse glass with a nanoparticle that is sensitive to radiation and then draw that hybrid glass into a fibre, we could have a remote sensor suitable for nuclear facilities," Zhao said.
More than just bolster smartphone and 3D display technologies, researchers say the breakthrough could offer serious improvements to medical diagnostics and surgical instruments.
"Neuroscientists currently use dye injected into the brain and lasers to be able to guide a glass pipette to the site they are interested in," Zhao explained. "If fluorescent nanoparticles were embedded in the glass pipettes, the unique luminescence of the hybrid glass could act like a torch to guide the pipette directly to the individual neurons of interest."
"We are heading towards a whole new world of hybrid glass and devices for light-based technologies," concluded Heike Ebendorff-Heideprem, lead researcher and deputy director of Adelaide's Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing.