Lukas Novotny, an optical physicist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, says that cathodoluminescence could be a useful tool for improving the performance of light-emitting devices and solar cells, because the light-emission maps created with the technique reflect the local density of electromagnetic states, a quantity that determines how well light couples to matter and vice versa. “This information is key,” he says.
The optics start-up company Delmic, based in Delft, the Netherlands, has licensed AMOLF’s cathodoluminescence technique, and Polman says that the company will soon be selling the devices to materials researchers in universities for between US$100,000 and $200,000; later it may target the laser, semiconductor and solar-cell industries. He realizes that, by selling the system, he may create competitors for his own research. But he says that that will be more than made up for by the creation of a community of scientists using cathodoluminescence outside the ranks of geologists. “We want to motivate people to get out there and do this,” he says.