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July 28, 2006

Nanoparticle infrared detector Is Ultrasensitive, Cheap

Canadian researchers have developed an inexpensive and highly sensitive infrared chip that could improve night-vision goggles and medical imaging. Made by spin-coating a glass slide or silicon chip with a solution of conducting nanoparticles called quantum dots, the detector is 10 times more sensitive than traditional infrared detectors.

The team that designed the chip is led by Edward Sargent, who holds the Canada research chair in nanotechnology at the University of Toronto. The chip picks up the near and short-wave infrared (SWIR) bands. SWIR light is abundant at night, even when it's cloudy or moonless. In such conditions, conventional night-vision goggles, which work by amplifying star light from the redder near-infrared band, are ineffectual.

Sargent says infrared cameras based on InGaAs chips now cost $40,000 to $60,000, whereas his technology could lead to much cheaper cameras. The cost of coating a square meter with the quantum dot solution is $17, he says, and speculates that infrared cameras might one day cost as little as today's digital cameras.

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