Engineers from MIT created a new type of optical lens that can focus without any moving parts that would move it, tilt it or change its shape.
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The new type of lens which is labeled as a metalens could in the future be used to build miniature lenses that would provide optical zoom. The most obvious place to use these lenses is in mobile phones where these could replace the sets of cameras with different fixed lenses.
Engineers from MIT decided to take a different approach to make lenses. Instead of relying on movable parts, they developed a lens covered in sophisticated structures that can change their properties based on their temperature. If that sounds familiar then think back to re-writable CDs and DVDs that use a material known as GST (GeSbTe) made from germanium (Ge), antimony (Sb), and tellurium (Te). The metalenses use a similar effect but this time the material is known as GSST as selenium was added to the mix allowing the structure of the material to be more structured becoming crystalline and changing the properties of the material when its bending light.
Microscopic structures from this material are added on top of glass and each of the structures bends light in a different way. And suddenly, metalenses that focus on near objects at room temperature and focus on objects further away when heated up get created. Sadly, for the time being, this means currently there are only two states – two focuses and nothing between them. But the creators think with correct heating and cooling at the right spots continual focus could be achieved.
For now, all of this is only a prototype that shows the functionality of the technology and the technology can only focus light in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. They hope they will be able to make it work in the visible part as well but even if they don’t succeed the technology would still find its place in infrared cameras.
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