Hacking CD/DVD/Blu-ray for Biosensing

Edwin En-Te Hwu*, Anja Boisen

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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    The optical pickup unit (OPU) within a CD/DVD/Blu-ray drive integrates 780, 650, and 405 nm wavelength lasers, diffraction-limited optics, a high-bandwidth optoelectronic transducer up to 400 MHz, and a nano-resolution x-, z-axis and tilt actuator in a compact size. In addition, the OPU is a remarkable piece of engineering and could enable different scientific applications such as sub-angstrom displacement sensing, micro and nanoimaging, and nanolithography. Although off-the-shelf OPUs can be easily obtained, manufacturers protect their datasheets under non-disclosure agreements to impede their availability to the public. Thus, OPUs are black boxes that few people can use for research, and only experienced researchers can access all their functions. This review details the OPU mechanism and components. In addition, we explain how to utilize three commercially available triple-wavelength OPUs from scratch and optimize sensing quality. Then, we discuss scientific research using OPUs, from standard optical drive-based turnkey-biomarker array reading and OPU direct bio-applications (cytometry, optical tweezing, bioimaging) to modified OPU-based biosensing (DNA chip fluorescence scanning, biomolecular diagnostics). We conclude by presenting future trends on optical storage devices and potential applications. Repurposing low-cost and high-performance OPUs may spread micro and nanoscale biosensing research from research labs to citizen scientists around the globe.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalACS Sensors
    Issue number7
    Pages (from-to)1222-1232
    Number of pages11
    Publication statusPublished - 2018

    Bibliographical note

    This is an open access article published under an ACS AuthorChoice License, which permits copying and redistribution of the article or any adaptations for non-commercial purposes.


    • Compact disc (CD)
    • Digital versatile disc (DVD)
    • Blu-ray
    • Optical pickup-unit (OPU)
    • Nanobio imaging
    • Cytometer
    • Optical tweezer
    • DNA chip
    • Fluorescence excitation emission matrix
    • Medical diagnostics


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