Various techniques used in biophotonics have been developed in an industrial or military setting before migrating to medicine and the life sciences. This is one reason why many techniques and applications used in biophotonics are open for dual use, i.e. can in principle be used for both civilian and military aims. Laser applications, high resolution analysis tools or microscopy technologies can for example serve military purposes as well as human (or animal) health care goals.
A wide range of chemicals, toxins, and microbiological materials are now being used in warfare and terror attacks; it is expected that in the coming years, threats from such chemicals and biological warfare will increase significantly.The military uses Biophotonics sensors for chemical and biological explosive detection, field intelligence, and bio-warfare defense as they can easily detect bacteria, spores, viruses, and toxins, and function perfectly in dirty environments.
These sensors are also being used to enhance homeland security. They are also used to monitor water supplies, sense intrusion at country borders, and secure cargo containers. Hong Kong uses biophotonic sensors to inspect the contents of all containers entering its port area. Other countries are expected to follow this practice, thus leading to a growth of the sensor market during the forecast period.
Sensing for human performance monitoring as applied to military situations is the integration of body-worn bio-sensing technologies with a particular human activity, whether in the combat theater or in maintenance applications. Morley Stone, Chief Technology Officer at the US Air Force Research Laboratory asked, “How can we best integrate the human-centric control loop with a military system?”
Various photonics-based sensing technologies, such as for monitoring blood pressure, sweat composition and blood oxygen levels, are now used to improve both performance and safety of personnel in a variety of situations, including treatment of injured warfighters and keeping maintenance operatives safe while they performing hazardous jobs like cleaning aircraft fuel tanks. He commented, “These systems are allowing us to approach the human no longer as a separate black box but as a connected component integrated into an overall managed system.”
National Science Foundation and DARPA program on Biophotonics
Photonics is the technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The unparalleled combination of spatial resolution, sensitivity, and spectral specificity of optical techniques has provided new biomedical research tools for visualization, measurement, analysis, and manipulation. Photonic techniques are under investigation for noninvasive diagnostic and monitoring applications such as early detection of breast cancer and glucose monitoring for people with diabetes.
The intent of this initiative is to exploit the power of photonics to advance biomedical engineering. Developing noninvasive, molecularly specific sensing, imaging, monitoring, and therapeutic systems with high optical sensitivity, and resolution would be an enormous accomplishment with powerful applications to both biology and medicine. Low cost diagnostics will requirenovel integration of photonics, molecular biology and material science. Complex biosensors capable of detecting and discriminating among large classes of biomolecules could be important not only to biology and medicine but also to environmental sensing. These advances will require multidisciplinary integration of optical technologies with molecular biology in novel engineered systems biomolecules.