From a scarf to a lens- the beauty of silk optics
Optical devices that are mechanically robust yet fully biodegradable and biocompatible are not available today. Such systems would greatly expand the utility of current optical platforms into a broader range of medical and environmental fields, areas currently limited to retrievable devices. A novel optics platform is described based on exploiting the unique mechanical and processing features of silk fibroin proteins. This system can be prepared in an all-aqueous approach, allowing the direct incorporation of reactive biological components in the devices to add selective functions, the materials can be prepared with optical clarity and with diffraction gratings for direct utility in optical detection modes, the systems are mechanically durable as tough biomaterials, and the systems will fully biodegrade over weeks to years depending on the mode of preparation. The successful demonstration of the bio-optical utility of these novel systems suggests entirely new windows of opportunity in environmental and medical sensor platforms that can not be met with current optical material and device platforms.