Harvard Researches Develop The "Metalens"

leica lens bisection.jpg
(Leica lens bi-section made by Leica students)

Aside from sensors or originally film negative size, the biggest contributing factor to quality images is your lens. Nowadays everyone has a camera in their pocket attached to their phone, but so far the size of the lens has led to a ceiling on quality image results. 

So, Harvard researchers have developed a flat lens that can focus all the colors of the rainbow. Why is that significant? Traditional glass lenses are curved, oftentimes need to be larger to get a better image. If they developed a flat lens, that can open up a whole world of possibilities for smartphones. imagine a giant lens on the back of a camera feeding into a sensor. That clears up space for more processing, battery or just parts. Flat could be the thing that helps change the way pictures are taken. 

There's a catch to all this greatness. It's not quite ready for primetime.  The researchers successfully focused light with this "metalens," but only on an extremely small, nanoparticle scale which can be thousands of times thinner than a human hair. This means that though the technology is promising, it's years away from changing the images captures on smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Here's an artist's conception of incoming light being focused to a single point by a metalens.


Mark Kaufman from Mashable writes:

"This laboratory research was published on Monday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, and might one day allow cameras, phones, and VR headsets to incorporate larger lenses that take up less space. This could allow for devices to exploit this added room for other purposes -- like hardware and batteries -- or add larger lenses without requiring a larger, heavier device.

Some forms of visible light have long wavelengths (red) and other much shorter (blue). So to capture all these colors at once, cameras today use curved lenses to focus all the incoming light simultaneously to capture an image. This precise process has served us well for over a century, but these lenses inherently take up more space.

"Metalenses have advantages over traditional lenses," Harvard physicist Federico Capasso, the study's senior author, said in a statement. "Metalenses are thin, easy to fabricate, and cost-effective. This breakthrough extends those advantages across the whole visible range of light. This is the next big step."

So, we may still be a few years away, but it's really exciting to know that people are out there constantly innovating, trying to make better versions of things.