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Vanderbilt and Penn State engineers have developed a novel approach to design and fabricate thin-film infrared light sources with near-arbitrary spectral output driven by heat, along with a machine learning methodology called inverse design that reduced the optimization time for these devices from weeks or months on a multi-core computer to a few minutes on a consumer-grade desktop.

The ability to develop inexpensive, efficient, designer infrared light sources could revolutionize molecular sensing technologies. Additional applications include free-space communications, infrared beacons for search and rescue, molecular sensors for monitoring industrial gases, environmental pollutants and toxins.

The research team's approach, detailed today in Nature Materials, uses simple thin-film deposition, one of the most mature nano-fabrication techniques, aided by key advances in materials and machine learning.

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