Curved lenses, like those in cameras or telescopes, are stacked in order to reduce distortions and resolve a clear image. That’s why high-power microscopes are so big and telephoto lenses so long.
While lens technology has come a long way, it is still difficult to make a compact and thin lens (rub a finger over the back of a cellphone and you’ll get a sense of how difficult). But what if you could replace those stacks with a single flat — or planar — lens?
Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have demonstrated the first planar lens that works with high efficiency within the visible spectrum of light — covering the whole range of colors from red to blue. The lens can resolve nanoscale features separated by distances smaller than the wavelength of light. It uses an ultrathin array of tiny waveguides, known as a metasurface, which bends light as it passes through, similar to a curved lens.
The research is described in the journal Science.
“This technology is potentially revolutionary because it works in the visible spectrum, which means it has the capacity to replace lenses in all kinds of devices, from microscopes to camera, to displays and cell phones,” said Federico Capasso, Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering and senior author of the paper. “In the near future, metalenses will be manufactured on a large scale at a small fraction of the cost of conventional lenses, using the foundries that mass produce microprocessors and memory chips.”