Year/Course: 2011-2012, Easter 2012

Contact: Dr. Philip Hands & Dr. Damian Gardiner, Engineering (CAPE)
More information: Watch the video
Mentor: Wouter Meuleman

“Companies have a vision of hand-held diagnostic devices for non-experts”

The research team at the Engineering Department has developed a unique, compact and low-cost laser which can be tuned within a range of wavelengths. While there are a wide range of possible applications for such a system, the team’s primary focus is to learn more about the life sciences and biomedical applications for their technology, such as the use of lasers to read fluorescent tags.

Currently available tuneable lasers are large, complex to operate and expensive (£50k-150k). Using self-assembling helical liquid crystal molecules with a controllable chirality (twist), the team have created a low-cost device which can be combined with a fixed-wavelength laser to give tuneable functionality at less than 1/10 of the cost of comparable systems, and which is small enough to be placed within a portable or handheld unit. The liquid crystal alters the wavelength of the laser input, with up to 60% efficiency, over a 400nm range (450-850nm). By controlling the liquid crystal materials, different wavelength conversions can be produced and varied mechanically, thermally or electrically, depending on the particular application. Furthermore, the laser can be modified to emit multiple simultaneous beams of light, of different wavelengths, which may provide novel solutions to laser-based applications.


In the short term, the system is expected to gain traction simply as a research tool for labs that are already using lasers at fixed and tuneable wavelengths, providing them with low-cost bespoke wavelength solutions. Longer term, the team is interested in the integration of these lasers into medical optical devices for the detection, diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Ultimately, it is hoped that they can be used for hand-held point-of-care medical diagnosis devices. Although the COSMOS laser itself is a new technology, it does not necessarily require new diagnosis techniques to be developed. Instead it can replace existing lasers which are already used in diagnostic systems. Potentially, it is a key and enabling technology for such systems to have greater functionality, to become significantly cheaper and smaller, and ultimately portable.

The question for the i-Team is to investigate and analyse which biomedical applications are most appropriate for the COSMOS tuneable lasers, and which types of companies the inventors will need to partner with in order to develop complete solutions for those markets.