April 2002

Light-Driven Micromachines

Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop and Marlies E.J. Friese

It isn’t uncommon for scientists to be inspired by science fiction, and good science fiction has a strong basis in real science. Modern science fiction is well populated with “nanobots” and “microbots,” tiny robots that are injected into the bloodstream where they perform tasks ranging from repairing damage and curing diseases to controlling human thoughts and actions. The miniature robot concept may seem far-fetched today, yet technological advances in the area of micromachine research are bringing the possibility of devices like this much closer to reality.

Boulder Emerges as New Optics Hub in the West

Boulder, Colorado, was an emerging center for optics and optics-based research even before two Boulder scientists shared last year’s Nobel Prize in physics for their work on Bose-Einstein condensation. During the past twenty years, the city has become a magnet for optics engineers and scientists. “None of my students ever seem to leave,” says Carl Wieman, one of the Nobel laureates and a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Instead, they move into research, start companies, or take up positions at one of the many high-tech optics businesses that have grown up locally or moved into the area.

Imaging the Cardiovascular System with Optical Coherence Tomography

Myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack, is a leading cause of death worldwide. It was once believed that large plaques within the coronary arteries caused heart attacks. Since the mid 1980s, however, it has become apparent that heart attacks occur from the rupture of small plaques in the coronary arteries. When these plaques rupture, they release lipids into the blood stream. A clot forms, and the vessel occludes.

Emerging Clinical Applications of Optical Coherence Tomography

Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is an emerging noninvasive imaging technique that provides microscopic tomographic sectioning of biological samples. By measuring backscattered light as a function of depth, OCT fills a valuable niche in imaging of tissue microstructure, providing subsurface imaging with high spatial resolution (on the order of ten micrometers) in three dimensions and high sensitivity in vivo with no contact needed between the probe and the tissue.

Ultrafast Optics

Ultrafast lasers have matured to the point that scientists unfamiliar with ultrafast technology can purchase reliable “plug-and-play” lasers for application in their own areas of expertise. These next-generation sources, which eliminate the need for users to become intimately acquainted with ultrafast optics, have significantly broadened the application base of ultrafast lasers. No-where is this trend more evident than in the application of ultrafast science to biology and medicine.

Optical Coherence Tomography of the Retina

Although the question of why the pupil is black had attracted the attention of writers dating back to the time of Ancient Rome, it was not until 1851 that Herman Ludwig von Helmholtz unlocked the door to the back of the eye by inventing the Augenspiegel, or ophthalmoscope. Von Helm-holtz’s groundbreaking invention enabled examination of both normal and diseased eyes. It also allowed drawings to be made of the fundus. The first images of the retina were useful to physicians for communicating both normal and unusual findings to their colleagues.

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