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Biophotonic Design

The term biophotonics denotes a combination of biology and photonics, with photonics being the science and technology of generation, manipulation, and detection of photons, quantum units of light.

Biophotonics has therefore become the established general term for all techniques that deal with the interaction between biological items and photons. This refers to emission, detection, absorption, reflection, modification, and creation of radiation from biomolecular, cells, tissues, organisms and biomaterials. Areas of application are life science, medicine, agriculture, and environmental science. Similar to the differentiation between ''electric'' and ''electronics'' a difference can be made between applications, which use light mainly to transfer energy via light (like Therapy or surgery) and applications which excite matter via light and transfer information back to the operator (like diagnostics). In most cases the term biophotonics is only referred to the second case.


Biophotonics can be used to study biological materials or materials with properties similar to biological material, i.e., scattering material, on a microscopic or macroscopic scale. On the microscopic scale common applications include microscopy and optical coherence tomography. On the macroscopic scale, the light is diffuse and applications commonly deal with diffuse optical imaging and tomography (DOI and DOT).

In microscopy, the development and refinement of the confocal microscope, the fluorescence microscope, and the total internal reflection fluorescence microscope all belong to the field of biophotonics.

The specimens that are imaged with microscopic techniques can also be manipulated by optical tweezers and laser micro-scalpels, which are further applications in the field of biophotonics.

DOT is a method used to reconstruct an internal anomaly inside a scattering material [1]. The method is non invasive and only requires the data collected at the boundaries. The typical procedure involves scanning a sample with a light source while collecting light that exits the boundaries. The collected light is then matched with a model, for example, the diffusion model, giving an optimization problem.

Light Sources for Biophotonics

The most dominantly used light source are lasers. However also LED´s, SLED´s or lamps play an important role. Typical wavelengths, which are used in biophotonics are between 200 nm (UV) and 3000 nm (near IR).


Lasers play a more and more important role in Biophotonics. Their unique intrinsic properties like precise wavelength selection, widest wavelength coverage, highest focusability and thus best spectral resolution, strong power densities and broad spectrum of excitation periods make them the most universal light tool for a wide spectrum of applications.

Gas lasers

Major gas lasers which are used for biophotonics applications and their most important wavelengths are:

- Argon Ion laser: 457,8 nm, 476,5 nm, 488,0 nm, 496,5 nm, 501,7 nm, 514,5 nm

- Krypton Ion laser: 350,7 nm, 356,4 nm, 476,2 nm, 482,5 nm, 520,6 nm, 530,9 nm, 568,2 nm, 647,1 nm, 676,4 nm, 752,5 nm, 799,3 nm

- Helium-Neon laser: 632,8 nm (543,5 nm, 594,1 nm, 611,9 nm)

- HeCd lasers: 325 nm, 442 nm

Diode Lasers

The most commonly integrated laser diodes, which are used for diode lasers in biophotonics are based either on GaN or GaAs semiconductor material. GaN covers a wavelength spectrum from 375 to 515 nm wereas GaAs covers a wavelength spectrum starting from 635 nm.

Most commoly used wavelengths from diode lasers in biophotonics are: 375, 405, 445, 473, 488, 640, 643, 660, 675, 785 nm.

Laser Diodes are available in 4 classes:

- Single edge emitter/broad stripe/broad area

- Surface emitter/VCSEL

- Edge emitter/Ridge waveguide

- Grating stabilized (FDB, DBR, ECDL)

For biophotonic applications the most commonly used laser diodes are edge emitting/ridge waveguide diodes, which are single transverse mode and can be optimized to an almost perfect TEM00 beam quality. Due to the small size of the resonator, digital modulation can be very fast (up to 500 MHz). Coherence length is low (typically < 1 mm) and the typical linewidth is in the nm-range. Typical power levels are around 100 mW (depending on wavelength and supplier).

Grating stabilized diode lasers either have an lithographical incorporated grating (DFB, DBR) or an external grating (ECDL). As a result, the coherence length will raise into the range of several meters, whereas the linewidth will drop well below picometers (pm). Biophotonic applications, which make use of this characteristics are Raman spectroscopy (requires linewidth below cm-1) and spectroscopic gas sensing.

Many advanced applications in biophotonics require individually selectable light at multiple wavelengths. As a consequence a series of new laser technologies has been introduced.

The most commonly used terminology are supercontinuum lasers, which emit visible light over a wide spectrum simultaneously. This light is filtered into 1 or up to 8 different wavelengths.

In another approach the supercontinuum is generated in the infrared and then converted at a single selectable wavelength into the visible region.

Since both concepts have major importance for biophotonics, the umbrella term ''ultrachrome lasers'' is often used.

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