In the future, camera lenses could be thousands of times thinner and significantly less resource-intensive to manufacture using new technology for making the artificial materials known as metasurfaces. These materials consist of a multitude of interacting nanoparticles that together can control light. Meta-surfaces can be used for optical components in portable electronics, sensors, cameras, or space satellites. The new technology for making such planar surfaces is based on a plastic that is already used today to create other microstructures.
The process involves applying a thin layer of this plastic on a glass plate via spincoating. Using electron-beam lithography, the desired pattern is drawn in the plastic film. The metasurface, consisting of pillars of different orientation, is then uncovered with a developer chemical. The resulting device can focus light just like a normal camera lens but it is thousands of times thinner and can be flexible.
The phones in our pockets have cameras comparable to a DSLR — technological masterpieces with millions of pix els of resolution. They process light with small advanced computer chips and software and the image is recreated with the help of small colored LEDs. These technologies have developed extremely rapidly in recent years due mainly to smaller and more effective circuit components.
Camera lenses themselves, however, have not changed as much. The majority of today's lenses are based on the same physical principles and include the same basic limitations as the first prototypes invented in the 16th century. In the past decade, however, researchers have begun to work with artificial materials — meta-surfaces — that could replace today’s lenses.
Currently, certain issues stand in the way of large-scale manufacturing of metasurfaces. Advanced equipment is required to manufacture them and the process is also very time-consuming. With the new method, the production rate can be increased several times compared to current state-of-the-art techniques. The new technology uses harmless chemicals as well as machines that are already common in nano-manufacturing laboratories, meaning that more researchers could now begin to study metasurfaces.