Our research group is interested in environmental sensing of heavy metals that are involved in pollution of aqueous environments. As a result, we are developing chemical sensors within integrated microfluidic systems for sensitive and selective detection of these pollutants. Our approach is to combine established chemical sensing strategies with microfluidic structures, especially in plastic devices, to achieve a total heavy metal analysis system. In this regard, the combination of three complementary techniques - optical waveguide spectroscopy, electrochemistry and chemical partitioning offers the required selectivity and sensitivity essential for many environmental samples. On-chip optical waveguide spectroscopy promises to yield the necessary high sensitivity but relies on fabrication of optical structures with a material of appropriate refractive index, optical quality, and chemical stability by methods consistent with established fabrication methods. SU-8, the epoxy-based negative photoresist, appears to satisfy these requirements and,
thus, has become one of our candidate materials for waveguide fabrication on plastic microchips. Although the SU-8 has
been previously used for waveguide fabrication, its optical properties and more specifically the influence of processing
conditions on resultant optical properties have not been thoroughly characterized. This work presents an evaluation of SU-8-based multimode waveguides on glass and plastic substrates. Optical constants of waveguides have been characterized by spectroscopic ellipsometric and prism coupling techniques. Additionally, using the latter method, evaluation of propagation losses of various structures with different thicknesses has been made. Ellipsometric and prism
coupling measurements gave comparable refractive indices for variously cured SU-8 waveguide materials. Prism coupling analyses proved to be more useful for analysis of the many SU-8 waveguide structures fabricated in the thickness range of 5 to 75 μm.