U.S. scientists say they are growing nanowires made of semiconductor materials to make powerful prototype lasers and light-emitting diodes.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology says the prototypes have emission apertures roughly 100 nanometers in diameter — about 50 times narrower than conventional counterparts.

The scientists say nanolight sources may have many applications, including lab on a chip devices for identifying chemicals and biological agents and as ultra-precise tools for laser surgery and electronics manufacturing.

The NIST said it is also growing nanowires made of gallium nitride alloys and making prototype devices and nanometrology tools. The wires are grown under high vacuum by depositing atoms layer by layer on a silicon crystal.

NIST said it is one of few laboratories capable of growing such semiconductor nanowires without using metal catalysts — an approach believed to enhance luminescence and flexibility in crystal design.

The wires are generally between 30nm and 500nm in diameter and up to 12 micrometers long. When excited with a laser or electric current, the wires emit an intense glow in the ultraviolet or visible parts of the spectrum, depending on the alloy composition.

The research appears in the journal Applied Physics Letters.