Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Near-Infrared Glow

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Near-Infrared Glow

Article excerpt

Materials that emit visible light after being exposed to sunlight are commonplace and can be found in everything from emergency signage to glow-in-the-dark stickers. But until now, scientists have had little success creating materials that emit light in the near-infrared range, a portion of the spectrum that only can be seen with the aid of night vision devices.

In a paper published in the online edition of the journal Nature Materials, however, University of Georgia scientists describe a new material that emits a long-lasting, near-infrared glow after a single minute of exposure to sunlight. Lead author Zhengwei Pan, associate professor of physics and engineering in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the Faculty of Engineering, says the material has the potential to revolutionize medical diagnostics, give the military and law enforcement agencies a "secret" source of illumination, and provide the foundation for developing highly efficient solar cells.

"When you bring the material anywhere outside of a building, one minute of exposure to light can create a 360-hour release of near-infrared light," Pan says. "It can be activated by indoor fluorescent lighting as well, and it has many possible applications."

The material can be fabricated into nanoparticles that bind to cancer cells, for example, and doctors could visualize the location of small metastases that otherwise might go undetected. For military and law enforcement use, the material can be fashioned into ceramic discs that serve as a source of illumination that only those wearing night vision goggles can see. Similarly, the material can be turned into a powder and mixed into a paint whose luminescence is only visible to a select few.

The starting point for Pan's material is the trivalent chromium ion, a well-known emitter of near-infrared light. When exposed to light, its electrons at ground state quickly move to a higher energy state. …

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