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Ultra-thin layer delivers night vision capabilities to ordinary glasses

This new technology could potentially be integrated into regular eyewear, allowing users to see both infrared and visible light simultaneously.
This new technology could potentially be integrated into regular eyewear, allowing users to see both infrared and visible light simultaneously. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

In a groundbreaking development, researchers from TMOS, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Transformative Meta-Optical Systems, have designed an innovative night vision filter that is thinner than a sheet of cling wrap. This new technology could potentially be integrated into regular eyewear, allowing users to see both infrared and visible light simultaneously.

Historically, night vision technology has been the domain of the military, hunters, and photographers who can manage the hefty equipment required. These devices are often bulky and can weigh up to a kilogram, making them impractical for everyday use, such as a nighttime jog or a casual evening walk.


Traditional night vision systems work by converting infrared light into visible light through a complex process. Infrared photons first pass through a lens and hit a photocathode, converting them into electrons.

These electrons are then amplified by a microchannel plate before hitting a phosphor screen, which converts them back into visible photons, creating the intensified image we see. This entire process requires cryogenic cooling to reduce thermal noise, contributing to the system’s weight and size.


A Leap in Miniaturization

TMOS researchers from the Australian National University have made significant strides in reducing the size and weight of night vision technology. Their work, published in Advanced Materials, showcases an infrared filter that uses a non-local lithium niobate metasurface for enhanced vision. This new approach drastically simplifies the process, needing far fewer components and working efficiently at room temperature.

Instead of the traditional multi-step conversion, the new technology allows infrared photons to pass through a single metasurface. This surface, resonating with a pump beam, boosts the energy of the photons directly into the visible spectrum without the need for electron conversion. This simplification not only reduces the device’s footprint but also eliminates the need for heavy cooling systems.


Seeing the Invisible: Combining Infrared and Visible Light

One of the most significant advantages of this new technology is its ability to merge infrared and visible light into a single image. Traditional systems usually capture images from each spectrum separately, but the metasurface-based upconversion technology integrates both spectrums into one, providing a clearer and more comprehensive view.

The researchers initially used a gallium arsenide metasurface for this technology but have since switched to lithium niobate. This material is fully transparent in the visible range, making the technology more efficient and capable of spreading the photon beam over a wider area, which reduces the angular loss of data.


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Lead author Laura Valencia Molina highlighted the challenges they faced, stating, “People have said that high efficiency up-conversion of infrared to visible is impossible because of the amount of information not collected due to the angular loss that is inherent in non-local metasurfaces. We overcome these limitations and experimentally demonstrate high efficiency image up-conversion.”

This breakthrough demonstrates the conversion of 1550 nm infrared light, commonly used in telecommunications, into 550 nm visible light, to which human eyes are very sensitive. This achievement is particularly significant because it shows high-resolution upconversion imaging, a first for non-local metasurfaces.


Future Applications and Research

Rocio Camacho Morales, another key author, emphasized the broader implications of their work. “This is the first demonstration of high resolution up-conversion imaging from 1550 nm infrared to visible 550 nm light in a non-local metasurface.

Future research will include expanding the range of wavelengths the device is sensitive to, aiming to obtain broadband IR imaging, as well as exploring image processing, including edge detection.”

The potential applications for this technology are vast. Chief Investigator Dragomir Neshev pointed out, “These results promise significant opportunities for the surveillance, autonomous navigation, and biological imaging industries, amongst others. Decreasing the size, weight, and power requirements of night vision technology is an example of how meta-optics, and the work TMOS is doing, is crucial to Industry 4.0 and the future extreme miniaturization of technology.”


With night vision technology becoming as lightweight as a pair of glasses, its use could extend far beyond the military and specialized fields. Everyday applications could include safer driving at night, improved safety during nighttime activities, and better functionality in low-light conditions without the need for cumbersome headlamps.

This innovation holds promise not just for consumer convenience but also for advancing numerous industries by enabling compact, efficient night vision solutions. TMOS's research is paving the way for a future where night vision is accessible to all, integrated seamlessly into our daily lives.


By enabling the viewing of both infrared and visible light through a single, lightweight device, TMOS's research is opening new doors for practical and widespread applications of night vision technology. This advancement is set to revolutionize how we perceive and navigate the world after dark, making night vision an everyday reality.

For more science news stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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