Materials scientists at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering used a new framework to grow sophisticated optical micro-components, including trumpet-shaped assemblages that operate as waveguides.

In 2013, materials scientists Joanna Aizenberg, the Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science and Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Core Faculty member of the Wyss Institute and former postdoctoral fellow Wim L. Noorduin fabricated delicate, flower-like structures on a substrate by simply manipulating chemical gradients in a beaker of fluid.

To explain the solidification and crystallization patterns, L. Mahadevan, the Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, Physics, and Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and postdoctoral fellow C. Nadir Kaplan, developed a new geometrical framework to explain how previous precipitation patterns grew and even predicted new structures.

In experiments, the scientists determined that the structures' shape can be controlled by changing the pH of the solution in which the shapes are fabricated.

Once the researchers understood the growth and form of the structures, the team created a strategy to build optical designs from the bottom up. In addition to growing the micro-structures, the materials scientists also demonstrated the assemblages' ability to conduct light.

“The approach may provide a scalable, inexpensive and accurate strategy to fabricate complex three-dimensional micro-structures, which cannot be made by top-down manufacturing and tailor them for magnetic, electronic, or optical applications,” said researcher Joanna Aizenberg.


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