Over the last decade or so, a group of scientists has begun to transform the field of optics by engineering flat optics metasurfaces, which use an array of millions of tiny, microscopically thin, and transparent quartz pillars to diffract and mold the flow of light in much the same way that a glass lens does, but without the aberrations that naturally limit the glass.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) named the technology one of the Top 10 Emerging Technologies in 2019, stating that these increasingly smaller, clearer lenses would soon be seen in camera phones, sensors, optical-fiber lines, and medical imaging devices such as endoscopes.
“Making the lenses used by mobile phones, computers, and other electronic devices smaller has been beyond the capabilities of traditional glass cutting and glass curving techniques,” the WEF says. These tiny, thin, flat lenses could replace bulky glass lenses, allowing sensors and medical imaging devices to be further miniaturized.
Researchers have now taken an important step toward reconfiguring these “metalenses” even more useful. They accomplished this by using nanoscale forces to infiltrate liquid crystals between the microscopic pillars, allowing them to shape and diffract light in new ways—”tuning” the focusing power. Because liquid crystals can be manipulated thermally, electrically, magnetically, or optically, they have the potential to be flexible or reconfigurable lenses.
Related Content: Zoom Lens Shifts Focus Without Tilting Or Moving