Magazine article Science News

Colored Glass Lights Future Optics Route

Magazine article Science News

Colored Glass Lights Future Optics Route

Article excerpt

Thousands of years ago, craftsmen made glasses in vibrant gold, red, and blue hues by mixing metal dusts into fire-melted sand. The ancients followed "magic" recipes to produce these decorative materials.

Now, with better formulas and more modern tools at hand, scientists are rediscovering colored glasses -- as promising materials for use in optical computers and light-based electronics. Using a technique called ion implantation to embed metal ions in glassy and crystalline substrates, a group of scientists led by Richard E Haglund Jr. of Vanderbilt University in Nashville can precisely engineer colored glasses to control the transmission of light.

"These composite materials could function as the nonlinear element in an all-optical circuit," Hagfund told SCIENCE NEWS.

To build ultra-fast electronics that use photons instead of electrons, two types of light-conducting materials must be developed: those that focus and speed traveling light beams and others that act as switches, allowing only certain kinds of light to pass (SN: 6/22/91, p.389).

Colored glasses could potentially perform the latter, "logical" function, says Haglund. They gain their "intelligence" by combining the optical properties of transparent glass and opaque metals. "Some light goes all the way through the glass," he explains, "but light absorbed by metal clusters is captured temporarily and then reradiated."

With ion implantation- commonly used in the semiconductor industry to etch silicon chips -the group can manipulate the size, density, and geometry of the nanometer-size metal clusters that form in the glass. …

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