Rare-earth doped infrared emitting composites have extensive applications in integrated optical devices such as fibre amplifiers and waveguides for telecommunications, remote sensing, and optoelectronics. In addition, recent advancements in infrared optical imaging systems have expanded the biomedical applications for infrared-emitting composites in diagnosis and imaging of living tissue systems both in vitro and in vivo. Composite systems combine the advantages of polymers (light weight, flexibility, good impact resistance, improved biomedical compatibility, and excellent processability) and inorganic phosphor host materials (low phonon energy, intense emissions, chemical durability, and high thermal stability). This paper provides a brief review of our research progress in the design and synthesis of luminescent photonic nanocomposite systems comprised of rare-earth doped particulates dispersed in a continuous polymeric matrix. The design of brightly-emitting rare-earth doped materials and the influence of host and dopant chemistries on the emission properties are discussed. Methods used to assess and measure the phosphors' performance are also evaluated in this work. This paper will also examine the solvothermal synthesis method used to control the physical and chemical characteristics of the rare-earth doped particles, and how these characteristics impact the infrared optical properties. Also presented here are recent advances reported with luminescent nanocomposite systems fabricated for optical waveguides and biomedical imaging.
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