Thin polymer film could revolutionize monitoring of cancer patients

A thin, stretchable polymer-based film that can coil light waves like a Slinky could make monitoring of cancer survivors more effective and less expensive. Developed by the University of Michigan chemical engineering researchers, the film provides a simpler, more cost-effective way to produce circularly polarized light, part of a process that could eventually provide an early warning of cancer recurrence. The research is detailed in a paper published online in Nature Materials.

Circular polarization is similar to the linear version that’s common in things like polarized sunglasses. But instead of polarizing light in a two-dimensional wave, circular polarization coils it into a three-dimensional helix shape that can spin in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.

Circular polarization is invisible to the naked eye, and it’s rare in nature. That makes it useful in an up-and-coming cancer detection process that looks to be able to spot telltale signs of the disease in the blood. Currently, in the research stage, the process requires large, expensive machines to generate the circularly polarized light. Nicholas Kotov, the Joseph B. and Florence V. Cejka Professor of Engineering leading the research and an author of the paper, believes the new film could provide a simpler, less expensive way to induce polarization.

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