Team claims material can emit light in near-infrared range

Scientists claim they have developed a material that can emit light in the near-infrared range.

The Georgia University scientists say they have created a material that emits a long-lasting, near-infrared glow after a single minute of exposure to sunlight.

Materials that emit visible light after being exposed to sunlight are commonplace and can be found in everything from signs to glow-in-the-dark stickers. But until now, scientists have had little success creating materials that emit light in the near-infrared range, a portion of the spectrum that only can be seen with the aid of night-vision devices.

Zhengwei Pan, associate professor of physics and engineering in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the Faculty of Engineering, said: ‘When you bring the material anywhere outside of a building, one minute of exposure to light can create a 360-hour release of near-infrared light.’

The starting point for Pan’s material is the trivalent chromium ion, a well-known emitter of near-infrared light. When exposed to light, its electrons at ground state quickly move to a higher energy state. As the electrons return to the ground state, energy is released as near-infrared light.

The period of light emission is typically on the order of a few milliseconds. The innovation in Pan’s material, which uses a matrix of zinc and gallogermanate to host the trivalent chromium ions, is that its chemical structure creates a labyrinth of ’traps’ that capture excitation energy and store it for an extended period. As the stored energy is thermally released back to the chromium ions at room temperature, the compound persistently emits near-infrared light over a period of up to two weeks.

‘It can be activated by indoor fluorescent lighting as well, and it has many possible applications,’ Pan explained.

He claimed the material has the potential to revolutionise medical diagnostics, give the military and the police a ‘secret’ source of illumination and provide the foundation for highly efficient solar cells.

Pan said the material can be fabricated into nanoparticles that bind to cancer cells, for example, and doctors could visualise the location of small metastases that otherwise might go undetected. For military and police use, the material can be fashioned into ceramic discs that serve as a source of illumination that only those wearing night-vision goggles can see. Similarly, he added that the material can be turned into a powder and mixed into a paint whose luminescence is only visible to a select few.

In addition to exploring biomedical applications, Pan’s team aims to use it to collect, store and convert solar energy. ’This material has an extraordinary ability to capture and store energy,’ he said, ’so this means that it is a good candidate for making solar cells significantly more efficient.’

The work is detailed in a paper published in an early online edition of Nature Materials.