Prototype night vision contact lenses could one day replace the bulky nighttime vision googles soldiers and hunters currently wear in the field and could have other life-saving applications, according to a researcher at the University of Michigan.
Zhaohui Zhong, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university, said in a statement
that new technology is allowing engineers to make the current infrared detectors smaller because it does not need the accompanying cooling equipment that makes the current googles so bulky.
The research was published this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
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"We can make the entire design super-thin," Zhong said in the university statement. "It can be stacked on a contact lens or integrated with a cell phone."
The research, supported by the National Science Foundation in part through the University of Michigan's Center for Photonic and Multiscale Nanomaterials, uses graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms, to sense the whole infrared spectrum, as well as visible and ultraviolet light, according to UM researchers.
University engineers said graphene had not been viable before because it could not capture enough light to generate a detectable electrical signal.
"The challenge for the current generation of graphene-based detectors is that their sensitivity is typically very poor," Zhong said in his statement. "It's a hundred to a thousand times lower than what a commercial device would require."
Zhong, along with university professor Ted Norris and graduate students worked to amplify the signal of graphene-base detectors by looking instead at how the light-induced electrical charges in the graphene affect a nearby current.
"Our work pioneered a new way to detect light," Zhong said in the university statement. "We envision that people will be able to adopt this same mechanism in other material and device platforms."
University researchers said that the technology would also allow doctors to monitor blood flow, scientists to identify chemicals in the environment and allow art historians to see sketches under layers of paint.
The discovery is just the latest developing technology for contact lenses. In November, a team of U.S. and Finnish bioengineers were able to embed an antenna, radio receiver, control circuitry and LED into a wearable contact lens, according to ExtremeTech.com
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