DOE Artificial Retina Project

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Funding for this work ended in FY 2011.

Lab Spotlight: Argonne National Laboratory

ultrananocrystalline diamond (UNCD) technology

Researchers John Carlisle (left) and Orlando Auciello (right) are developing an ultrathin biocompatible coating for the device.

Creating Diamond Coatings for the Retinal Implant

Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) plays a critical role in the success of the electrode implants used in the Artificial Retina Project. That’s where researchers Orlando Auciello and colleague John Carlisle are using their patented ultrananocrystalline diamond (UNCD) technology to apply a revolutionary new coating to the retinal prosthetic device. The new packaging promises to provide a very thin, ultrasmooth film that will be far more compact and biocompatible than the bulky materials used to encase the earlier prototypes (models 1 and 2).

“It’s like wearing a skin instead of a space suit,” says Mark Humayun (Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California), leader of the Artificial Retina Project.

An Ultrathin Diamond Coating

UNCD is a form of carbon that captures many of the properties of diamond and can be deposited on a wide variety of surfaces in thin layers. The diamond grains used in the coating are only 2 to 5 nanometers in size (a nanometer is about 10,000 times narrower than a human hair). These films are as hard as single-crystal diamond, the hardest known material on earth. Unlike natural diamond, however, its properties can be adjusted and optimized for a given application.

Considered to be a platform technology, UNCD has numerous potential beneficial applications in such areas as medicine, transportation, and industrial production. It is chemically inert (nonreactive) and compatible with biological tissues, traits that make it useful in retinal prosthetic implants as well as other biodevices such as an artificial pancreas. Additionally, the material is a superb electrical insulator but also can be made to be highly conductive, and this conductivity can be tuned. This work has led to the use of UNCD for biosensors that use electrochemical reactions to detect biomolecules.

Parts of the UNCD technology received a 2003 R&D 100 award, an honor given to the most innovative developments that occur in a particular year. The technology has been licensed to Advanced Diamond Technologies (Champaign, Il.), a company founded by Carlisle and Auciello.

ANL logo

From the National Labs to the Public

A goal of the national laboratories is to provide benefits to industry and the public by moving discoveries into everyday use, a process called technology transfer. This practice leads to benefits for everyone and demonstrates the value of using tax dollars to support early-stage scientific research. In recognition of their efforts toward that end, Carlisle and Auciello received the 2006 Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer from the Federal Laboratory Consortium.

The nation’s first national laboratory, ANL conducts basic and applied scientific research across a wide spectrum of disciplines, ranging from high-energy physics to climatology and biotechnology. Since 1990, Argonne has worked with more than 600 companies and numerous federal agencies and other organizations to help advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for the future.

Argonne is managed by the University of Chicago for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The Artificial Retina Project was part of the
Biological and Environmental Research Program
of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science
Funding for this work ended in FY 2011.

DOE Office of Science

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Last modified: Tuesday, May 15, 2018