Photonics/​Optics

Access our comprehensive library of technical briefs on photonics and optics, from engineering experts at NASA and major government, university, and commercial laboratories.

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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
Robots and cameras of the future could be made of liquid crystals, thanks to a new discovery that significantly expands the potential of the chemicals already common in computer displays and digital watches. The findings are a simple and inexpensive way to manipulate the molecular properties of liquid crystals with light exposure.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
Usually developing slowly over time, many cases of glaucoma are only picked up during routine eye tests, by which time lasting damage may already have been caused. But this could change in the future as academics from the U.K. and Türkiye have developed a contact lens which can detect changes in eye pressure which signal possible glaucoma.
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Briefs: Lighting Technology
RMIT University’s Arnan Mitchell and University of Adelaide’s Dr. Andy Boes led an international team to review lithium niobate’s capabilities and potential applications in the journal Science. The team is working to make navigation systems that help rovers drive on the Moon — where GPS is unable to work — later this decade.
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Briefs: Materials
An international team of researchers reports on a compact high-brightness mid-IR-driven source combining a gas-filled anti-resonant-ring photonic crystal fiber with a novel nonlinear-crystal. The tabletop source provides a seven-octave coherent spectrum from 340 nm–40,000 nm with spectral brightness 2–5 orders of magnitude higher than one of the brightest synchrotron facilities.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
Researchers at SEAS have uncovered hidden potential in metasurfaces and demonstrated optical devices that manipulate light’s polarization state with an unprecedented degree of control. Read on to learn more.
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Briefs: Imaging
The NIST camera is made up of grids of ultrathin electrical wires, cooled to near absolute zero, in which current moves with no resistance until a wire is struck by a photon. In these superconducting-nanowire cameras, the energy imparted by even a single photon can be detected because it shuts down the superconductivity at a particular location (pixel) on the grid. Combining all the locations and intensities of all the photons makes up an image.
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Briefs: RF & Microwave Electronics
Researchers have created a device that enables them to electronically steer and focus a beam of terahertz electromagnetic energy with extreme precision. This opens the door to high-resolution, real-time imaging devices that are hundredths the size of other radar systems and more robust than other optical systems.
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Briefs: Imaging
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed an autonomous, or self-driving, microscopy technique. It uses AI to selectively target points of interest for scanning. Read on to learn more.
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Briefs: Sensors/Data Acquisition
The optical concentration sensor has been demonstrated to effectively measure pretreat concentrations in both still and flowing liquid conditions and is resistant to contamination issues as necessitated by the UWMS.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
Researchers at Boston University recently developed a novel deblurring algorithm that improves the resolution of images with photon intensity conservation and local linearity.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
With this new capability, researchers can potentially use frequency combs to better understand the split-second intermediate steps in fast-moving processes ranging from the workings of hypersonic jet engines to the chemical reactions between enzymes that regulate cell growth.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
Scientists from the Institute of Geophysics at ETH Zurich, working together with the Swiss Federal Institute of Metrology (METAS), have found an inexpensive method that enables accurate earthquake measurements even on the ocean floor and in less developed countries.
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Briefs: Electronics & Computers
Photoelectric (PE) sensors represent a discrete sensor technology widely used throughout industry. They use the presence or absence of light to provide an on/off output to supervisory automation and monitoring systems, and are often the better choice for sensing manufacturing products.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
Making Satellite, Ground Communication More Effective
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Moussa N’Gom has devised a method to make communications between satellites and the ground more effective — regardless of the weather.
Briefs: Imaging
To further shrink electronic devices and to lower energy consumption, the semiconductor industry is interested in using 2D materials but manufacturers need a quick and accurate method for detecting defects in these materials to determine if the material is suitable for device manufacture.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
MIT researchers have developed a camera-based touch sensor that is long, curved, and shaped like a human finger. Their device provides high-resolution tactile sensing over a large area. The sensor, called the GelSight Svelte, uses two mirrors to reflect and refract light.
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Briefs: Imaging
Imagine being able to snap a picture of extremely fast events on the order of a picosecond.
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Briefs: Test & Measurement
Researcher are finding ways to estimate a target location when light gets deflected by a disordered structure.
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Briefs: Test & Measurement

Processes and structures within the body that are normally hidden from the eye can be made visible through medical imaging. Scientists use imaging to...

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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
Researchers have developed the world’s smallest LED. It enables the conversion of existing mobile phone cameras into high-resolution microscopes. Smaller than the wavelength of light, the new LED was used to build the world’s smallest holographic microscope.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
Researchers have developed a viable dust, water, and ice mitigation optical coating for space flight, aeronautical, and ground applications. The innovation of the LOTUS coating prevents contamination on sensitive surfaces.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
A team of researchers demonstrated the first light-emitting array with 49 different colors on a single chip. This novel optoelectronic device is built on metal-oxide semiconductor capacitors.
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Briefs: Lighting
With a new microscopy technique that uses blue light to measure electrons in semiconductors and other nanoscale materials, a team of researchers is opening a new realm of possibilities in the study of these critical components, which can help power devices like mobile phones and laptops.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
Researchers have outlined a new optical communication protocol that exploits spatial patterns of light for multi-dimensional encoding in a manner that does not require the patterns to be recognized, thus overcoming the prior limitation of modal distortion in noisy channels.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
Research reveals that expertly timed lasers shined at an approaching LIDAR system can create a blind spot in front of the vehicle.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
Researchers at the University of California San Diego have developed soft devices containing algae that glow in the dark when experiencing mechanical stress, such as being squished, stretched, twisted, or bent.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
Researchers from Imperial College London and University College London have demonstrated the first spontaneously self-organizing laser device, which can reconfigure when conditions change.
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Briefs: Photonics/Optics
Touchless switches are an ideal solution for industries such as food, beverage, pharmaceuticals, medical, and chemicals where sanitary design is important. They are also useful for protecting the well-being of users in everyday commercial applications.
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Briefs: Imaging
The tool shows promise for imaging brain activity in 3D with high speed and contrast.
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