New Contact Lenses Will Give You Infrared Vision

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Admit it: You want superpowers. It’s human to look at Spider-Man swinging between buildings or Superman soaring through the air and think “Man, I want to do that.” Alas, we are not quite there just yet. But we are getting closer and closer to giving human beings the ability to see in infrared with just their contacts.

Hot, Hot Heat

You might be wondering how your flimsy contact might ever contact the necessary bits and pieces to detect invisible light spectra, and the answer is “graphene.”

What, you might ask, is graphene? It’s a carbon allotrope that’s essentially a honeycomb lattice of carbon atoms. Everything built from carbon, from carbon nanotubes to diamonds, is built on graphene. And it turns out the stuff is highly useful.

Carbon Copy

Graphene happens to react to infrared light; we’ve known that for years. But the response wasn’t great, so the team at the University of Michigan that developed the sensor took another approach and measured how the light affecting the graphene affected a current running through it. Essentially, there are two sheets of graphene with an insulating layer between them. As the infrared light hits the first layer, it releases electrons, which head towards the second layer, which has a current running through it. Measuring the response there gives the data needed to create an infrared camera effect.

Seeing In The Dark

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It’s always reasonable to ask about the real-world applications of academic work, and in this particular case, there are a lot of them. For example, fitting your camera with an infrared attachment would be a matter of clipping on a lens filter, and doctors can use this technology to monitor your circulation. And, yes, there are “commercial applications.” Basically, sooner rather than later, you’re going to have contacts that let you see formerly invisible light.

Dan Seitz

Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.

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