into living organisms and manufacturing optically active materials, both of which are now routinely used in life science research.

One of the major advances of the last two decades in the life sciences (the subject of a Nobel Prize in 2008) was the development of genetic engineering techniques that allow the programming of individual cells to produce protein molecules that fluoresce in response to specific stimuli. The approach is used for optical detection of the turning on and turning off of specific genes in cells in response to drugs or environmental conditions. Similarly, neurons engineered to produce fluorescent dyes based on proteins that report the active and inactive states of neurons in living animals are being used to map out the neuronal wiring of living brains and to track the flow of information through neural circuits in live animals.

New, highly efficient inorganic dyes have been developed that can be chemically linked to nucleic acids and provide an optical readout of nucleic acid sequences in high-throughput DNA sequencing instruments. The optical materials are a critical element in the technology that will ultimately enable the $1,000 genome, which will help to make possible a new era of personalized medicine.60

New nanostructured materials have also demonstrated new methods for labeling cells and intracellular organelles with biocompatible optical materials by using nano-scale semiconductor structures (QDs) and nanometer gold spheres and rods. The new materials provide several advantages, including greatly improved resistance to photo-bleaching, tunable and very narrow spectral features, and the ability to functionalize the nanoparticle surface with antibodies to allow it to bind specifically to a wide variety of biological surfaces.


This chapter illustrates the strategic role that materials and nanostructuring can play in the development of new optical systems. Below are the findings of the committee regarding strategic materials for optics.

Finding: There is much promise in tailoring existing materials in novel ways to produce innovative results. The new metamaterials and photonic nanostructures enable original optical properties that can be developed for innovative functions that could not be exhibited in traditional materials. Realizing the full potential of nanostructured materials is still hampered by non-uniformities and many defects. The smaller the structure, the more issues with non-uniformity.

Finding: Gallium, germanium, indium, selenium, silver, and tellurium are all critical elements for development of thin-film photovoltaics (TFPV).


60 For more information, see discussions in Chapter 6 and Appendix C of this report.

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