Infrared cameras can detect the invisible light emitted by plants as they photosynthesize, cool stars burn, and batteries heat up. Infrared light has less energy than visible light, making it more challenging to capture. A quantum dot technology breakthrough could one day lead to much more affordable infrared cameras, allowing infrared cameras for everyday consumer electronics like phones and sensors to help autonomous cars see their surroundings more accurately.
Traditional methods of producing infrared cameras are costly in terms of materials and time, but the new method is much faster and produces excellent results.
The researchers turned to quantum dot technology, tiny nanoparticles a few nanometers in size. They have strange properties at that scale that change depending on their size, which scientists can control by tuning the particle to the appropriate size. In this case, quantum dots can detect infrared light wavelengths.
Cameras require this ‘tunability’ to detect different parts of the infrared spectrum. Collecting multiple infrared wavelengths provides more spectral information—like it’s adding color to black-and-white television. Short-wave provides textural and chemical composition information, while mid-wave provides temperature.
They modified the quantum dots so that they could detect short-wave infrared and mid-wave infrared. They then placed both on top of a silicon wafer.