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Using Light’s Schizophrenia

David Erickson

Optofluidic Devices

Sudeep Mandal

Sudeep Mandal

For most of us, light is the stuff whose absence or presence determines how easy it is to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It surrounds us and illuminates our world. However, beneath its seemingly mundane and ubiquitous presence, light is fundamentally peculiar stuff.

Most of us who have taken at least some high school science know that unlike sound, the speed of light is constant no matter how fast you are traveling toward or away from the source. Many are aware that the speed of light has something to do with nuclear weapons, or at least know Einstein’s famous equation: E=mc2, with c being the speed of light. But only those quite familiar with light’s underlying nature know that it suffers from a serious form of schizophrenia—its so-called wave/particle duality. Sometimes it behaves like it is composed of tiny particles, and sometimes it behaves like a vibrating wave.

Exploiting Light’s Duality

David Erickson, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is familiar with light’s nature, and he is exploiting both sides of its split personality to help life scientists and others manipulate and identify biomolecules and organisms easily and with extreme sensitivity. His work has already resulted in the disclosure of two inventions to the Cornell Center for Technology, Enterprise, and Commercialization (CCTEC) since his arrival in Ithaca in the fall of 2005. The first invention is a device for separating objects suspended in a liquid using a laser beam; this device exploits the particle-like behavior of light. The second invention is a device for detecting molecules and organisms of interest in a liquid; this device exploits the wave-like behavior of light. Erickson’s student, Sudeep Mandal, is a co-inventor of both devices.


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