A new technology using glass and transparent sensors is opening possibilities for biomedical devices, app storage, and touchscreens
Think you might have a fever? Instead of pulling out the old-school thermometer, why not use your smartphone to check your temperature. After a few seconds, your smartphone gives you the news you’re hoping for: no fever. Now imagine a smartphone or wearable device that can take your temperature, assess your blood sugar, and analyze your DNA.
Technology like this, considered science fiction a few years ago, is now becoming a reality. And it all starts with glass.
Today, researchers from Corning, N.Y., and Montreal are exploring an emerging technology that enables multiple layers of sensors to be embedded into the glass on your smartphone. These sensors could be used for biomedical or food safety applications, as an added layer of security in mobile financial transactions, or could even enable transparent touchscreens on windows, countertops, or walls. Perhaps this futuristic world is not too far away.
When can you buy this type of smartphone? These technologies are still being researched and are not yet fully available in the marketplace today, but the possibilities are substantial. In the meantime, explore some of the science and steps behind how this technology works:
- Researchers use a laser to draw or write out pathways in the glass. These pathways, called waveguides, act analogous to metal wires for electronics to channel or guide the light to the anywhere in the glass.
- Using a laser allows researchers to create waveguides at different depths or layers within one piece of glass. Each of these layers within the glass can be a different type of sensor or a single sensor can span all three dimensions of the volume of glass. These sensors are transparent and invisible to the naked eye. The type of sensor, whether checking your temperature or blood sugar, is determined by how the waveguides are drawn on the surface of the glass. For example, a temperature sensor consists of a curved and a straight waveguide.
- In the case of the temperature sensor, when the glass touches something, one of the waveguides is designed to heat up which expands its optical path length. After combining light from that sensing waveguide with the other waveguide, changes in the overall brightness of the light will tell what is difference in temperature.
- Because the glass used is extremely transparent, flat and smooth the waveguides are better able to prevent the light from absorbing and escaping or leaking, which creates a more efficient reading from the sensor.
Interested in learning more? Check out this research paper, or stay tuned to the Glass Age.