New Method Speeds Up 3-D Printing Of Millimeter-Sized Imaging Lenses

A new method to make a low-cost, high-quality lens quickly using a 3D printer has promising potential to create optical imaging lenses, customized contact lenses for correcting distorted vision, or to even turn iPhones into microscopes for disease diagnosis.

Developed by Northwestern Engineering researchers after two years of research, the customized optical component, which is 5 millimeters in height and 5 millimeters in diameter, can be 3D printed in about four hours.

“Up until now, we relied heavily on the time-consuming and costly process of polishing lenses,” said Cheng Sun, associate professor of mechanical engineering and whose lab developed the 3D printing process. “With 3D printing, now you have the freedom to design and customize a lens quickly.”

The research was published on March 24 in Advanced Materials. It includes images taken with the lens connected to an Apple iPhone 6s, including high-quality detailed images of a sunset moth’s wing and a spot on a weevil’s elyta.

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