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Issue Date: February 2012, Posted On: 2/16/2012

GE Global Research develops new thermal imaging technology
Taking heat detection to a new level of sensitivity and speed, a team of scientists at GE Global Research -- including Yogen Utturkar -- have unveiled a new bio-inspired nanostructured system that can outperform thermal imaging devices available today. This discovery adds to a growing list of new capabilities that GE researchers have developed through their studies of Morpho butterfly wings, the company said.

Based in Niskayuna, N.Y., with offices in Bangalore, India; Shanghai, China; Munich, Germany, GE Global Research is the technology development arm for the General Electric Co.

GE scientists are exploring many potential thermal imaging and sensing applications with their new detection concept such as medical diagnostics, surveillance, non-destructive inspection and others, where visual heat maps of imaged areas serve as a valuable condition indicator. Some examples include:
  • Thermal imaging for advanced medical diagnosis -- to better visualize inflammation in the body and understand changes in a patient’s health earlier.
  • Advanced thermal vision -- to see things at night and during the day in much greater detail than what is possible today.
  • Fire thermal imaging -- to aid firefighters with new handheld devices to enhance firefighter safety in operational situations
  • Thermal security surveillance -- to improve public safety and homeland protection
  • Thermal characterization of wound infections -- to facilitate early diagnosis.
“The iridescence of Morpho butterflies has inspired our team for yet another technological opportunity. This time we see the potential to develop the next generation of thermal imaging sensors that deliver higher sensitivity and faster response times in a more simplified, cost-effective design,” said Radislav Potyrailo, principal scientist at GE bio-inspired photonics programs. “This new class of thermal imaging sensors promises significant improvements over existing detectors in their image quality, speed, sensitivity, size, power requirements, and cost.

“GE’s bio-inspired design also promises exciting new thermal imaging applications such as in advanced medical diagnostics to detect changes in a person’s health or in thermal vision goggles for the military to allow soldiers to see things during the day and at night with much greater specificity and detail,” he added.

Thermal imaging is utilized in a variety of industrial, medical and military applications today, ranging from the non-invasive inspection of industrial components and medical diagnostics to military applications such as thermal vision goggles and others. GE’s new bio-inspired nanostructured system could enable an even broader application of thermal imaging by improving the manufacturability, image resolution, sensitivity, and response time of new systems. These advances would enable the production of more advanced systems at much lower cost, according to GE.

Potyrailo team studied the origin and details of thermal response of Morpho butterfly wing scales. The team was made up of GE research Utturkar, as well as company researchers Andrew Pris, Cheryl Surman, William Morris, Alexey Vert, Sergiy Zalyubovskiy and Tao Deng. It also included University at Albany Professor Helen Ghiradella.

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