Researchers can “evolve” optical devices and print them out using 3D printing technology. These devices enable cameras and sensors to detect and control light qualities in previously impractical ways at tiny sizes. They are composed of so-called optical metamaterials, which derive their capabilities from structures with dimensions measured in nanometers.
The team has developed small devices that can sort incoming light—in this case, infrared—by wavelength and polarization, a characteristic that specifies the direction in which the light waves vibrate. This work serves as an example of the new design methodology.
At its foundation, design software is an iterative process. It has an option for adjusting the gadget at every optimization stage. It learns how to make another minor modification after making one small change, and in the end, we have this odd-looking structure that performs well in the target function that we first set out to achieve.
The researchers used a form of 3D printing called two-photon polymerization (TPP) lithography, which uses a laser to selectively solidify a liquid resin to create physical objects from designs from computer models. It is comparable to some amateur 3D printers but uses more precise resin hardening to create objects with smaller details than a micron.
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