Eagle Eyes at a Feather’s Weight: New Optics Lightening Military’s Load

November 28th, 2012 | by Michael Keller

A new artificial lens that mimics the one found in human eyes is set to dramatically lower the weight of night-vision goggles, laser rangefinders and cameras aboard micro unmanned aerial vehicles that soldiers and marines must carry in the field.

Optics and materials engineers have been working for a decade on a process that places thousands of transparent polymer layers on top of each other to make what’s called a gradient-index (GRIN) lens.

It’s the same method that humans and some other animals have evolved to build the lens in their eyes. In the natural version, thousands of layers of clear protein layers are deposited one on top of the other to allow light through and focus images onto the retina.

“We were curious about what makes our own eyes work,” says Dr. Michael Ponting, the president of PolymerPlus, a spinoff from Case Western Reserve University founded to bring the new GRIN lenses to market. “We’ve always been interested in how smart evolved natural systems are at getting things done. So we looked to nature to find the most efficient scientist.”

Fine-tuning refractive power

For the artificial version PolymerPlus is building, each polymer layer can be fine-tuned by changing its chemical composition to minutely alter how much it bends light, a phenomenon called refraction. The process then stacks 4,000 polymer layers into paper-thin films that are in turn placed on top of each other. This method allows scientists to precisely configure the refractivity of the lens. Their work was published in November in the journal Optics Express.

Read more: txchnologist: Eagle Eyes at a Feather’s Weight: New Optics Lightening Military’s Load.

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