Nano-technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent decades, making devices smaller and smaller, to the point that they are almost invisible. Most recently, a team of researchers managed to create a camera smaller than a grain of rice that takes incredibly sharp pictures comparable to those taken by conventional cameras a million times larger. Spy movie technology may be more real than ever!
The science and other stuff to know
Traditional compound optics, which photographers and amateurs use to capture moments and landscapes, work by focusing light through a series of curved lenses to form a digital image. This is a useful method, but it requires the eyepiece to be large enough to receive the minimum amount of light it needs to build an image.
Last year, a team of nanotechnology experts from Princeton University developed a camera the size of a grain of salt with which they achieve a similar resolution to that of compound types. These nano-devices can fit perfectly on the tip or surface of a surgical instrument, for example, making it easier for doctors during an intervention.
The nano-camera does not have an eyepiece but instead captures images from a series of cylinders. Artificial intelligence commands the reception of photons in the cylinders, forming RGB color images (red, green, blue). So far, they have achieved genuinely amazing results.
To achieve the manufacture of these devices called metasurfaces, a material similar to glass was used—silicon nitride—and they hope that in the coming years these curious devices can be manufactured with production methods already standardized for nano chips.
Feliz Heide is a researcher at Princeton and co-author of the article published in Nature Communication. He stated that they will continue working on improving the computational capacity of the device, which at the moment has inefficient processing. In addition, the researchers want to add new functionalities, such as object identification, which would be very useful in robotic medicine for surgical interventions.
Currently, there are surgical methods with cameras that, due to their size, are usually invasive or useless in some types of interventions. So the size of this nano-chamber makes it an ideal candidate for this job. In addition to working as a camera, it could also act as a temperature, humidity, or pressure sensor, providing valuable information to surgeons in real time.
Experts suggest that these types of metasurfaces can work together as a large network so that when a large number is placed, their resolving power is amplified. Heide believes that “We could turn individual surfaces into ultra-high resolution cameras, so you no longer need three cameras on the back of your phone, but the entire back of your phone becomes one giant camera. We can think of completely different ways to build devices in the future.”