Case studies

Printing patterns

The idea of etching nano-scale patterns onto surfaces has resulted in many applications from ultra-sensitive sensing techniques to increasing the efficiency of light-emitting diodes and photovoltaic cells

Surface-enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS) is a powerful sensing technique that relies on patterning nanoscale features onto a surface. It can be used to detect a variety of molecules including drugs, explosives, bacteria and indicators of cancer. The technology was pioneered by Southampton researchers and is now being used around the world in a range of applications.

The same researchers have now managed to increase the sensitivity of SERS and have also worked with industrial partners to develop manufacturing techniques to make the sensors on a plastic substrate instead of silicon. Using nanoimprint technology and roll-to-roll printing techniques, large numbers of SERS substrates can now be manufactured simultaneously. This not only makes SERS devices cheaper to produce, it also paves the way for plastic-based integrated optical components such as lasers, light sources and optical interconnects.

Zepler Institute researchers have also used nanoimprint lithography to texture the surface of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), improving their effi ciency by up to 200%. This technique, which also makes the devices simpler to manufacture, is today used in millions of LEDs every year. The surface patterning enables light to be emitted that would ordinarily be trapped inside the structure. This same idea can be used in reverse and applied to photovoltaic cells to improve the way in which they capture light and generate electricity.