Soon, “perfect lens” technology could allow your smartphone to have nearly the same capabilities as microscopes costing hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.
Due to breakthroughs in lens production technology, researchers are closer than ever to creating these super lenses.
From the popular science blog IFLS:
Often dubbed the “holy grail” of optical science, creating such a device has been dogged by complications since it was theorized 15 years ago. You may be familiar with a scanning electron microscope (SEM), which enables scientists to resolve images down to the nanoscale, but at a price of $1 million (£650,000). A perfect lens (or superlens) would carry the same functionality, but at a fraction of the cost – cheap enough to be used in smartphones in the future.
The perfect lens would be made of metamaterials, which are essentially materials engineered to alter how they interact with light. In this case, silver is engineered at the nanoscale to behave like a glass. Light waves are made to pass through the metal, instead of reflecting off it, far exceeding the optical power of ordinary lenses.
Regular optical devices run into problems when they try to magnify extremely small objects below 200 nanometers in size, as they simply can’t resolve them. For a comparison, think of those distant images of Pluto we had before New Horizons arrived; our most powerful optical telescopes, even Hubble, could only show the dwarf planet to be a blurry dot, because the resolution simply wasn’t good enough.