Scientists Invent Ultrathin Flat Lens for Smartphones

A close up of a device

Imagine a cell phone that is as thin as a credit card; that would allow for it to be tucked inside a wallet or other equally small enclosure, making phones far easier and convenient to carry. That dream may yet come true, Science Daily reports, as a team of researchers working in Italy have devised a means for creating a lens that is hundreds of times thinner than that normally used in a smart phone. Nano Week says the development could spark a new round of research efforts to reduce the size of other components in smart phones to equal the new advance in the lens. The team has published their results in the science journal Nano Letters.

Traditional lenses are neither flat nor thin enough to produce supersharp images, the team explains, which means efforts have to be made to improve what the user sees by using computer chips inside the phone. That doesn’t make sense, they argue, as the technology exists to create superflat and superthin glass (in this case thin enough that 1500 of them would equal the width of a human hair). To that end, they applied new glass making technology with old and came up with a lens that doesn’t require processing by a computer chip to produce images that are every bit as sharp and clear as those currently on the market. Such a lens would also weigh much less too of course which could reduce the weight of a smart phone by up to twenty five percent.

Science Daily says the research team actually invented a new kind of lens, one that has tiny strips of metal embedded in it that reflect light at the molecular level, from the center of the lens outward, producing an image that is as clear as optical theory suggests is possible.

Nano Week says that in spite of the small size of the materials used in the lens, it appears quite likely that the new lenses would be rather easy to manufacture which means reduced costs for consumers as well. They add that one limiting factor in creating credit card thin phones is damage control. Current cell phones break down more often than almost any other consumer device and making them even thinner would seem to increase that rate unless a new way to safeguard the insides can be found that doesn’t involve causing the phone case to be larger than the phone itself. Thus far, they say, researchers have been stymied in their efforts to beef up the abuse a smartphone can take, but suggest it might be possible a new kind of insulation could be discovered at any time to solve the problem.

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John Johnson