This research area is focused on developing novel photonic devices using principles, materials, and structures that are biologically inspired or bioengineered, implantable, biodegradable, wearable, and that often mimic nature at scales from nano to macro levels. Such devices are primarily used for sensing, diagnostics, and therapeutic applications, solving the limitations of conventional optical devices and conventional approaches. Some exemplary projects are as follows:
Topic 1 Cell Laser
The Yun lab has shown that biological media, such as fluorescent proteins in a living cell, can amplify light and serve as gain media to produce laser light. Such bio-lasers and light amplification may lead to many interesting devices and previously unthinkable applications, and we have an active NSF support for this topic of research. For example, we have built a prototype cell-laser cytometer and protein-based sensors, and we are working on several related technologies. For example, a previous summer student has built a miniature dye laser and investigated the effect of a single wild-type E. coli bacterium in the cavity on the laser threshold and output emission patterns
Topic 2 Biodegradable Optical Waveguides
When penetrating through tissue, light is quickly attenuated with 1/e-penetration depths of only a few hundred µm. Efficient delivery and collection of light to and from tissue is therefore key to the ultimate success of many biomedical applications of optical techniques. This project is aimed at developing implantable optical waveguides that are capable of delivering light deep into tissue. Made of biomaterials with proven intrinsic biocompatibility and optimized biodegradability, such photonic devices can be implanted in the body for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes and absorbed in situ over time, without the need for invasive removal. One application of such waveguides includes the optogenetic stimulation of implanted cells; another application we are working on involves photochemical tissue bonding at depths beyond the reach of conventional surface illumination. Students working on this topic will design, fabricate, and characterize their own polymer waveguides, and they will acquire knowledge on waveguide optics, biomaterials, nanofabrication, and their applications.