New approach can dramatically change the extent to which optical devices scatter light
By immersing glass particles in a fluid, researchers at MIT's Media Lab and Harvard University are exploring a new mechanism for modifying an optical device's diffusivity, or the extent to which it scatters light.
In its current form, the new diffuser could be used to calibrate a wide range of imaging systems, but the researchers believe that their mechanism could ultimately lead to holographic video screens or to tunable optical devices with applications in imaging, sensing, and photography.
In experiments, the solid-liquid mixture demonstrated much more dramatic changes in diffusivity than existing theory would have predicted, so the researchers also developed a new computer model to describe it. That model could help them devise more complex applications for the basic technology.
The researchers describe their new work in the latest issue of the American Chemical Society's ACS Photonics journal.
The fluid and the glass in the prototype were chosen because they have very similar refractive indices, meaning light travels through them at similar speeds. When light moves from a material with a high refractive index to one with a lower refractive index, it changes direction; this is the phenomenon behind the familiar illusion of a straw's appearing to bend when it's inserted into a glass of water.
The researchers' prototype exploits the fact that changes in temperature alter materials' refractive indices.
"It's hard to find a solid and liquid that have exactly the same refractive index at room temperature," says Barmak Heshmat, a postdoc in the Media Lab's Camera Culture group and corresponding author on the paper. "But if the speed at which the refractive index changes for solid and liquid is different -- which is the case for most solids and liquids -- then at a certain temperature they will exactly match, to the last digit. That's why you see this giant jump in transparency."
Heshmat is joined on the paper by Ramesh Raskar, the NEC Career Development Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and head of the Camera Culture group, and Benedikt Groever, a graduate student in engineering and applied science at Harvard.
Study in contrast
In their experiments, the researchers found that a temperature change of 10 degrees would increase the diffusivity of their device tenfold, and a change of 42 degrees changed it a thousandfold.
Heshmat believes that a temperature-modulated version of his team's filter could be used to calibrate sensors used in the study of material flows, the study of cells, and medical imaging.
For instance, medical-imaging systems are typically calibrated using devices called "tissue phantoms," which duplicate the optical properties of different types of biological tissues. Tissue phantoms can be expensive, and many of them may be required to calibrate a single imaging device. Heshmat believes that a low-cost version of his team's filter could mimic a wide range of tissues.
But the fundamental principle illustrated by the researchers' prototype could have broader ramifications. The effect of heat on the refractive index of either the solid or the fluid, taken in isolation, is very subtle. But when the two are mixed together, the effect on diffusivity is dramatic.
The same would be true, Heshmat argues, of other types experimental materials whose refractive indices change in response to either light or an electric field. And optical or electrical activation would broaden the range of applications for tunable optical devices.
"If you have photorefractive changes in a solid material in a solid phase, the amount of change you can get between the solid and itself is very small," he explains. "You need a very strong field to see that change in your refractive index. But if you have two types of media, the refractive index of the solid is going to change much faster compared to the liquid. So you get this deep contrast that can help a lot."
In holographic displays, cells filled with a mixture of electrically responsive solid materials and a fluid could change their diffusivity when charged by an electrode, in much the way that cells filled with ionized gas change their color in plasma TVs. Adjacent cells could thus steer light in slightly different directions, mimicking the reflection of light off of a contoured surface and producing the illusion of three-dimensionality.
Liquid-solid mixtures could also be used to produce tunable diffraction gratings, which are used in some sensing applications to filter out light or other electromagnetic radiation of particular frequencies, or in tunable light diffusers of the sort photographers use to make the strongly directional light of a flash feel more like ambient light.
The computer model that the researchers describe in their paper predicts the diffusivity of a liquid-solid mixture on the basis of the physical characteristics of the solid particles -- how jagged or spiky they are -- and on their concentration in the liquid. That model, Heshmat says, could be used to develop solid particles tailored to specific applications.
ARCHIVE: Imaging with an "optical brush"
ARCHIVE: Glasses-free 3-D projector
ARCHIVE: Cheap, color, holographic video
ARCHIVE: Glasses-free 3-D TV looks nearer
Abby Abazorius | EurekAlert!
New biomaterial could replace plastic laminates, greatly reduce pollution
21.09.2017 | Penn State
Stopping problem ice -- by cracking it
21.09.2017 | Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
22.09.2017 | Life Sciences
22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering
22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy