News | April 30, 1999

DOD Grants $5 Million For Tunable Optical Polymer Research

A research team headed by scientists and engineers at the University of Rochester (Rochester, NY; 716-275-2281) has received $5 million from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to explore new types of plastics that create and manipulate light and change colors on demand. The five-year research project, called Tunable Optical Polymer Systems (TOPS), will explore polymer materials that use light to store, display, and manipulate information.

The Research Project

The Research Project (Back to Top)
The program is funded through the DOD's Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative, which supports basic research into areas of technology that may have future military applications as well as commercial uses. Samson Jenekhe, professor of chemical engineering, chemistry, and materials science at the University of Rochester, will lead the research.

Other senior investigators on the project are Shaw Chen, professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Rochester, and Lewis Rothberg, professor of chemistry at the University of Rochester. Also taking part in the research are scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge), the University of Texas (Austin), and Southern Illinois University (Carbondale).

Altogether, members of the team hold dozens of patents and have contributed hundreds of research ideas to the emerging field of optoelectronic polymers. The scientists will work closely with their counterparts in industry to expedite applications of the new materials.

At Rochester University, the project will support work by the three faculty members as well as five graduate students, three undergraduate students, and two post-doctoral researchers. The funding will also support the purchase of several pieces of equipment to build and analyze polymer devices, including a spectroscopic ellipsometer, an absorption spectrophotometer, a colorimeter, and computerized electrochemical equipment.

The funding comes on the heels of two major research findings announced by members of the TOPS team. Jenekhe's team created polymer materials that assemble themselves into sophisticated optical devices useful in telecommunications and optical data storage. Chen's team created a novel class of polymer materials potentially useful for energy-efficient information displays and for optical communication, data storage, and laser protection.

Applications (Back to Top)
"Not long ago, the plastic in high-tech devices wasn't much more than a simple insulator to protect the electronics," Jenekhe says. "We've come a long way: Now plastics are the electronic components of many devices like computer screens, and we expect them to play a very large role in information display and storage in the future."

Other applications for the technology include holographic information storage, clothing that can store and display information, and very large and easily manufactured computer displays. With the technology, wallpaper may also be created that switches color in response to temperature, lighting, or other conditions.

"This new project is a good balance between practical applications that we believe can be attained in a short time, and futuristic science that only a few people imagine," Jenekhe says. "This is an investment into the science behind many of the technologies of the future."

For more information, call Samson Jenekhe at Rochester University at 716-275-2281.