Fabricating small devices out of glass is a challenge. Very few tools can precision machine glass. With few exceptions (optical fibers for example), glass-based microdevices are produced with old technology, using tools designed to fabricate much larger components. Consequently, even when glass is the most desirable material for a given application, the microdevice designer is often forced to settle for a less-desirable alternative material.
Fortunately, this situation is changing. For the last decade, numerous research groups, including our group at Translume, have been working to develop processes to precision micromachine glass. Translume has developed a manufacturing platform that relies on femtosecond lasers to micromachine fused silica (the purest of glass). This workstation has the capability to machine complex geometric contours and shapes in three dimensions in fused silica slabs. Furthermore, our CNC-like computer-controlled tool is able to induce localized index of refraction changes in glass.