In recent years, a great deal of interest has been directed toward the use of organic materials in the development of high-efficiency optoelectronic and photonic devices. There is a myriad of possibilities among organic materials, which allows flexibility in the design of unique structures with a variety of functional groups. The use of nonlinear optical (NLO) organic materials as thin-film waveguides allows full exploitation of their desirable qualities by permitting long interaction lengths and large susceptibilities allowing modest power input. There are several methods in use to prepare thin films such as Langmuir-Blodgett (LB) and self-assembly techniques,2-4 vapor deposition.5-7 growth from sheared solution or melt,8,9 and melt growth between glass plates.10 Organic-based materials have many features that make them desirable for use in optical devices, such as high second- and third-order nonlinearity, flexibility of molecular design, and damage resistance to optical radiation. However, processing difficulties for crystals and thin films has hindered their use in devices.
We discuss the potential role of microgravity processing of a few organic and polymeric materials. It is of interest to note how materials with second- and third-order NLO behavior may be improved in a diffusion-limited environment and ways in which convection may be detrimental to these materials. We focus our discussion on third-order materials for all-optical switching, and second-order materials for frequency conversion and electro-optics. The goal of minimizing optical loss obviously depends on processing methods. For solution-based processes, such as solution crystal growth and solution photopolymerization, it is well known that thermal- and solutal-density gradients can initiate buoyancy-driven convection. Resultant fluid flows can affect transport of material to and from growth interfaces and become manifest in the morphology and homogeneity of the growing film or crystal. Likewise, buoyancy-driven convection can hinder production of defect-free, high-quality crystals or films during crystal and film growth by vapor deposition.