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Shots in the dark: a small but mighty xenon flash for mobile phones

20 February 2013

A Singapore invention looks set to equip mobile phones with a built-in, small yet powerful Xenon flash, allowing consumers to take great photos even in low-light conditions.

A mobile phone flash unit with its existing capacitor (silver cylinder) compared with NTU's new super thin polymer capacitor material

Scientists from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have made a novel capacitor that overcomes the limitations of current devices needed to store enough energy to fire a powerful flash like those found on digital cameras - they are just too big to fit into modern, slimline mobile devices.  

The invention, by Associate Professor Lee Pooi See from NTU’s School of Materials Science and Engineering, will be made a consumer reality in partnership with Xenon Technologies (XT), the world’s largest Xenon flash manufacturer. 

Made from polymers layered together, the new capacitor is at least four times smaller than current electrolytic capacitors and is several times faster than current ceramic-based capacitors. The multi-layered polymer capacitor is also able to deliver the same charge needed to power a high-intensity xenon flash light, matching those found in digital cameras.

Polymer capacitors such as the one developed by Professor Lee, generally possess a higher energy density than ceramic-based multilayer capacitors.

NTU’s new material, a grafted co-polymer that stores charges similar to a multilayer ceramic capacitor, can be operated at high voltages. Capacitors made using this grafted co-polymer are flexible and much smaller than the conventional capacitors. In addition, the charge and discharge times of the capacitor are faster than other types of energy storage devices making it suitable for flash applications.

The NTU-Xenon team is expected to develop a working commercial prototype by September 2013.


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