Emerging Technologies

Harvard scientists have created a camera that can capture invisible light

Science Museum employee Kerry Law poses for a photograph by an audio visual display at the Large Hadron Collider exhibition at the Science Museum in London November 12, 2013. The exhibition is a behind-the-scenes look at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Switzerland, where the realisation of British scientist and Nobel laureate Peter Higgs' theory on the Higgs boson took place.  REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN - Tags: ENERGY ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY) - LM1E9BC0XMZ01

The thumb size camera has potential to be used for facial recognition and satellites in the future. Image: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Paul Ratner
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Emerging Technologies

Scientists from Harvard University created a device that offers us a view into a normally unseen world. Their new compact polarization camera promises to achieve in one shot an imaging of the direction of vibrating light, invisible to our eyes. While some polarization cameras currently exist, they are very bulky, with expensive moving parts and limited uses.

The thumb-size Harvard camera's creators see it as a breakthrough, with wide usefulness, from self-driving vehicles to satellites, planes, facial recognition, security and chemistry applications.

The research was carried out by a team from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Federico Capasso, professor of applied physics and senior researcher in electrical engineering at SEAS as well as senior author of the paper, called their study "game-changing for imaging."

"Most cameras can typically only detect the intensity and color of light but can't see polarization," he said. "This camera is a new eye on reality, allowing us to reveal how light is reflected and transmitted by the world around us."

Paul Chevalier, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and co-author of the study, explained that because polarization is a trait of light that changes when reflected from a surface, it can be helpful to reconstructing objects in 3D, allowing for better estimates of depth, texture and shape.

The team's accomplishment was in employing metasurfaces, nanoscale structures that have interaction with light at the scale of wavelengths, shared Harvard's press release.

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Building upon new knowledge of how polarized light works, the team was able to create a metasurface that directed light and formed four images. Combined, these gave a full, pixel-deep snapshot of polarization.

Another advantage of the device – it's just 2 centimeters in length and can be worked into existing imaging systems like cell phone cameras.

Check out how the camera works here:

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Emerging TechnologiesFourth Industrial Revolution
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