A type of imaging that does not require a lens and uses reconfigurable particle-based masks to take multiple shots of an object is being developed. The electric-field directed self-assembling mask technology was developed by creating a mask of microscopic gold wires and placing it near the object to be imaged. The mask scatters the light reflected off the object and an image sensor collects the light. An electric current rearranges the particles in the mask, producing a new mask with every iteration and the system records each new image. The multiple light captures are then computationally reconstructed into the original object image, resulting in highly improved resolution and quality.

Schematic of the layout for a lensless camera. (Photo: Keating/Liu Labs, Penn State)

Typically, one would need to make multiple masks and physically move them around to get multiple images. This becomes bulky and expensive and negates some of the simplicity that is the advantage of lens-free imaging.

In typical microscopy, there exists a tradeoff between the field of view and the power of the resolution, so a 10x field is wider than a 100x field. By using a lens-free imaging technology, it is possible to combine a wide field of view with high magnification for lower-cost images and faster diagnosis of disease. This could be especially useful in developing countries where high-end microscopes are not available.

In the case of cellphones, one major contributor to their bulk is due to the camera lens needing to be a certain distance to the detector. A lens-free camera could help minimize the space requirement. Likewise, a lens-free system added to a cellphone could turn the cellphone into a low-power microscope.

For more information, contact Walt Mills at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 814-865-0285.