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Physicists find a way to see through opaque materials

Materials such as paper, paint, and biological tissue are opaque because the light that passes through them is scattered in complicated and seemingly random ways. A new experiment conducted by researchers at the City of Paris Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Educational Institution (ESPCI ParisTech) has shown that it’s possible to focus light through opaque materials and detect objects hidden behind them, provided you know enough about the material. The experiment is reported in Physical Review Letters.


Knowing enough about the way light is scattered through materials would allow physicists to see through opaque substances, such as the sugar cube on the right. In addition, physicists could use information characterizing an opaque material to put it to work as a high quality optical component, comparable to the glass lens shown on the left.

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ZnO nanostructures


ZnO nanostructureNanotechnology and nanoscience have certainly been one of the most popular fields of research in the last decade. Manufacturing processes are now able to carry out the deterministic synthesis of nanostructures with properties radically different from their macroscopic forms, enabling the realization of previously unthinkable devices. Despite these advances, few nanofabrication techniques feature the required characteristics for the commercial manufacturing of these new products in an effective fashion since they are either too slow, or too expensive and complex.

This page is a summary of my doctoral thesis project, accomplished at the Laboratory for multiscale mechanics at the École Polytechnique de Montréal (LM2, mechanical engineering). The main objective of this project was to develop a new manufacturing technique allowing the local synthesis of nanostructures on a surface for their eventual integration into nanodevices. The desired process has to be selective, reproducible, versatile, simple, fast and inexpensive for potential industrial utilization. Moreover, the manufacturing process must have a minimal environmental impact for sustainable development.

To implement the required specifications, a laser process combining the characteristics of laser-induced chemical liquid deposition (LCLD) and of sol-gel synthesis was proposed. The technique is very simple and consists of three steps. A precursor solution is first prepared. Next, a droplet of a controlled volume is transferred on a substrate by means of a micropipette. The droplet is then irradiated using a laser emitting in the infrared to induce the fast synthesis of nanostructures.

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