World’s smallest camera lens heralds biotech revolution
Tue 28 Jun 2016
German researchers have developed the world’s tiniest 3D-printed lens, which could be integrated into cameras just twice the width of a human hair, revolutionising medical imaging, surveillance, robotics and drone technologies.
In a Nature Photonics paper titled Two-photon direct laser writing of ultracompact multi-lens objectives this week, the team, based at Stuttgart University, explained how they had created a triplet lens using 3D printing techniques. The lens, which measures only 100 micrometres, is capable of capturing high-resolution images and can be printed on top of sensors and optical fibres, typically used in digital cameras, as well as onto the ends of medical endoscopes.
The team of scientists said that the device was also small enough to fit inside the hollow of a syringe needle, meaning that it could be injected into a human organ, and even the brain, to monitor activity from a fixed position inside the body.
The study noted: ‘Current lens systems are restricted in size, shape and dimensions by limitations of manufacturing. Multi-lens elements with non-spherical shapes are required for high optical performance and to correct for aberrations when imaging at wide angles and large fields. Here, we present a novel concept in optics that…opens the new field of 3D printed micro- and nano-optics with complex lens designs.’
Lead researcher, Timo Gissibl, added that the ‘unprecedented flexibility’ of the new lens would ‘pave the way towards printed optical miniature instruments such as endoscopes, fibre-imaging systems for cell biology, new illumination systems, miniature optical fibre traps, integrated quantum emitters and detectors, and miniature drones and robots with autonomous vision.’
Gissibl and his team concluded that the miniature scale of the optical system would lead to the development of thousands of new devices which could have an enormous impact on the future of biotechnology, medical engineering, and safety and security monitoring.