by Sally Logue Post
The Future of Light
Materials much narrower than a human hair could create big changes in how you see and use light.
Center for Nanophotonics
The Center for Nanophotonics is part of the Whitacre College of Engineering at Texas Tech.
The center specializes in research and development on the manipulation of photons-electrons in nano-scale materials for innovative photonic devices and emerging technologies. Find out more about the center's research here.
The work of two Texas Tech professors could revolutionize military defense systems and consumer products by creating smaller, more efficient light sources and in some cases, even changing the color of light.
Hongxing Jiang, the Edward E. Whitacre endowed chair and professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Jingyu Lin, the Linda Whitacre endowed chair and professor of electrical and computer engineering, are working with materials less than one-thousandth the width of a human hair.
Their work is called nanophotonics and involves the manipulation of photons and electrons in nano-scale materials. The devices that could come from their work have the potential to revolutionize light sources.
The Color of Light
A key part of Lin and Jiang’s work revolves around changing the color of light.
“If you look at the light bulb, it really hasn’t changed dramatically since Thomas Edison’s work in the late 1870s,” Jiang said. “We are looking at a future class of lighting that not only is tremendously more energy efficient and longer lasting, but that may also be a different color.”
Think of Christmas tree lights. To achieve different colors, the glass bulb is colored, but the light remains white. Lin and Jiang are actually changing the color of the light. They have already achieved blue, green and ultraviolet light, and are working on other colors.
Their work also could lead to a new chip-based light system that might do away with light bulbs.
“There is a possibility to insert a chip, and your cabinet door or a panel on the wall becomes a light source,” Lin said. “It could revolutionize the concept of lighting.”
Jiang and Lin recently received a $2 million grant to develop the next generation of solid-state high-energy lasers with intended military defense uses.
Since coming to Texas Tech in 2008, they have secured more than $9 million in federal funding. Their most recent funding, a $2 million five-year grant from the High Energy Laser Multidisciplinary Research Initiative program supported by the High Energy Lasers-Joint Technology Office and Army Research Office, is allowing them to expand their focus.
The grant focuses on developing nano-scale, chip-size materials that could lead to the creation of significantly more compact and more powerful lasers for use by the military in missile defense systems, in effect they are trying to reduce the size of a missile defense system from the size of a small room to something that could fit on a truck.
“We are working with the same materials in our laser project that we have been researching all along,” Lin said. “We are just expanding our work to high-energy lasers. It is all focused on making smaller, more compact, more energy-efficient materials that have practical military and consumer uses.”
Beyond military defense, smaller, light-weight lasers have other applications. Jiang notes that Curiosity, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, has a laser to drill holes in the planet’s surface. “If our research is successful, the very large laser Curiosity is carrying could be significantly reduced in size, allowing the rover to be smaller.”
There are also medical applications such as the potential to reduce lasers used in surgery to such a small scale that they could possibly be handheld.
It is the focus on the real-world application of their basic research that draws praise from their college dean. “Drs. Jiang and Lin have one of the best nanophotonic research groups in the country, and this grant will allow them to move their research forward,” said Al Sacco, dean of the Whitacre College of Engineering. “While they are conducting fundamental research, they also are looking for commercial applications that could spur the economy in Texas and in the country.”
Texas Tech nanophotonics researchers are working on creating high-definition televisions small enough to fit in eyeglasses for military use.
The solid-state lighting technologies under development at the Center for Nanophotonics will lead to energy-efficient lighting. Additionally, Jiang and Lin’s research could aid the development of miniature displays in helmet-mounted or head-up display systems of aircraft pilots and on-deck air controllers.
New display technologies will reduce weight and energy usage while offering real-time information processing and increased shock resistance, thus improving the quality of information received by the military.
“We’re looking at technology that will create high-definition televisions small enough to fit on your eye glasses or goggles,” Jiang said. “The pilot will not have to look down to see a screen–the data will be right in front of him or her.”
Similar technology could also make it possible to project an image from a smart phone onto a wall without a projector.
Meet the ResearchersHongxing Jiang is the Edward E. Whitacre endowed chair and professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Whitacre College of Engineering.
Jingyu Lin is the Linda Whitacre endowed chair and professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Whitacre College of Engineering.
Lin and Jiang also are working on reducing the size of machines used at shipping ports to scan large crates coming off of ships for nuclear materials. “Our work could possibly reduce the size of those scanners so that they could be handheld, making it easier and less expensive to scan more cargo,” Lin said.
Jiang and Lin’s partnership is a successful one. Their work has led to more than 20 patents on related (Ill-Nitride) semiconductor device technologies. The design and fabrication of these novel devices are among the most prominent technologies for energy-efficient solid-state lighting and have been adopted by the light-emitting diode (LED) industry worldwide.
Jiang and Lin came to Texas Tech in 2008 to establish the Center for Nanophotonics, but their partnership goes back to more than three decades ago, when they met in a laboratory at Syracuse University while both were working on doctorates.
“It has worked out pretty well. We’re coming up on our 30th wedding anniversary next year,” said Jiang.
Lin believes the personal relationship is a great advantage to the duo professionally. “Research is competitive, and I believe that working together gives us a better chance of success. We complement each other, and we can share the duties in the laboratory,” she said. “It was the offer of the Whitacre endowed chairs that actually brought us to Texas Tech. I suspect we are the only married couple who hold endowed chairs named for a married couple.”
About the Whitacre College of Engineering
The Whitacre College of Engineering was one of the original academic areas when Texas Tech opened in 1925.
Today approximately 4,300 undergraduate and 725 graduate students pursue bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees offered through eight academic departments: civil and environmental, chemical, computer science, electrical and computer, engineering technology, industrial, mechanical and petroleum.
The college also offers two graduate certificate programs in petroleum and software engineering. View all degrees offered here.
Whitacre College of Engineering faculty, undergraduate and graduate students pursue basic and applied research that generate new knowledge and create technical solutions to society’s challenges, all in an environment that is committed to the individual student’s success. The college performs over $16 million in sponsored research each academic year. More about COE research.
Sally Logue Post is Director of Research and Academic Communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University. Video produced by Scott Irlbeck, Senior Editor of Research & Academic Communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research at Texas Tech University.