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Engineers develop flat, ultra-thin, ultra-lightweight lens

13 February 2016

A team from the University of Utah has developed a method of creating optics that are flat and thin yet can still bend light to a single point.

Professor Rajesh Menon holds up the prototype of the flat, thin lens

The University of Utah's Professor Rajesh Menon and his team, have designed a flat lens that can be ten times thinner than the width of a human hair or millions of times thinner than a conventional camera lens. 

In the same way that butterfly wings show different colours as a result of diffraction, light interacts with microstructures within the new lens to diffract in a similar manner. “What’s new is we showed that we could actually engineer the bending of light through diffraction in such a way that the different colours all come to focus at the same point," says Menon.

Menon’s researchers use specially created algorithms to calculate the geometry of a lens so different colours can pass through it and focus to a single point. The resulting 'super-achromatic lens' can be made of any transparent material such as glass or plastic.

Applications of this potential lens system include medical endoscopes, which can be made thinner and lighter, or drone and satellite cameras where weight reduction is critical. Having proved the concept can work, Menon believes the first applications of his team's research could become a reality within five years.

An article describing this work is published in the journal, Scientific Reports.

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