Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras have been awarded funding for a two year joint research project to develop new biomedical sensors, based on polymer optical fibres. The collaboration is supported by the Programme of Co-operation on Science and Technology, signed by the Irish and Indian Governments in April 2009, and represents a significant step forward in collaboration between the two countries in the field of research. The programme of research will be coordinated by Professor Gerry Farrell (DIT) and Professor Balaji Srinivasan (IIT Madras).
Optical fibre sensors based on what are called fibre Bragg gratings (FBGs) have been demonstrated to be useful in several bio-medical applications. However, conventional FBGs are based on glass fibres and are not bio-compatible. On the other hand, polymer optical fibres (POF) which were originally developed for short range communications applications are much better suited for bio-medical applications for the following reasons:
· Bio-compatible, POF does not pose the health hazards associated with glass
· Handling is relatively easy
· POF is more flexible and can tolerate much higher strain than glass fibers
· POF sensors offer the potential to be easily integrated into fabrics and clothing
The group at IIT-Madras is one of the strongest photonics-related research groups in India, especially in the area of fibre optic sensors. A key infrastructure that is relevant to this proposal is the state-of-the-art laser-based grating fabrication facility. The facility is currently used to fabricate FBGs in silica optical fibers using diffractive optical elements, known as phase masks. The fabrication of FBGs in plastic optical fiber is a key part of this project and opens up the possibility of developing new sensors systems for biomedical applications, for example sensors for artificial limbs and sensors embedded in clothing which can continually monitor stress to improve posture for those suffering from orthopaedic injuries.
The mutual exchange of ideas that is envisaged during the proposed research work should immensely benefit both groups, especially since it involves a new, exciting research area of Bragg grating sensors in polymer optical fibres.
The Photonics Research Centre at DIT is one of the leading research groups in Ireland in the area of optical fibre sensors. Prof. Farrell is the Principle Investigator and group leader of the Photonics Group at DIT. The research group concentrates on the research and development of optical sensors for a wide range of engineering applications, modelling and simulation of fibre sensors and integrated waveguides, and the combination of Liquid Crystal material and fiber sensors. For example the group has published several recent journal papers on the integration of novel miniature glass optical sensors into surgical instruments to provide force feedback to surgeons during keyhole surgery.
Thus, by combining the expertise of IIT Madras in the fabrication of the polymer FBG and DIT expertise in the simulation/modelling of FBGs and the implementation of FBGs in biomedical devices will open up the development of a new class of medical devices, which will have a significant commercial potential both in India and as well as in Ireland.
Speaking about the new collaboration, Professor Farrell said, “This is a significant development for both DIT and IIT Madras. Plastic Optical Fiber is ideally suited to the development of biomedical sensors but the successful fabrication and application of fiber sensors using POF has been limited to date. Leveraging the experience of the two groups in India and Ireland this project will offer new insights into the fabrication of POF sensors and their applications, for example stress monitoring for orthopaedic injuries”