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This New Flat Lens May Revolutionize the Lens Industry

Caleb Ward

This new technology may render traditional curved lenses obsolete.

When it comes to optical technology, or more specifically lenses, sharpness is the name of the game. In fact, accurate sharpness in terms of color reproduction is typically how you can discern a good lens from a bad one.

Poor lenses typically suffer from a phenomenon called chromatic aberration, where colors are distorted due to different wavelengths. Chromatic aberration is usually identified by “purple fringing” in an image’s areas of contrast and it can be pretty annoying if you are trying to get a clean and crisp image.

Newer lenses have their optics designed to minimize chromatic aberration, whereas older lenses tend to feature more color distortions. However, no matter what lens manufacturers do, they will always have to deal with color distortion if they are using curved lenses. But what if lenses weren’t curved?

This was the question proposed to a team of Harvard physicists who have successfully created a wafer-thin lens that uses only flat glass elements. The lens pushes the boundaries of what is physically possible in optics.

Flat-Lens Example
Photo via Harvard School of Engineering

The lens works by using tiny, light-concentrating silicon antennas to instantaneously bend light wavelengths and direct them to a single point, instead of having the light bend at different lengths due to light-wave speed. This new technology can hypothetically eliminate many of the conventional glass elements that are normally used to fix chromatic aberration inside a lens.

The following video shows the flat lens in-action. Notice the amount of bokeh that can be achieved using this lens:

In addition to professional videography and photography, the new design may likely find use in compact cameras, astronomy, and microscopy.

Harvard’s Office of Technology Development has filed for a patent and they are currently seeking commercial opportunities for the new technology. It’s safe to say that we will likely see this new technology in professional lenses in the near future.

What do you think of this new technology? Is it going to revolutionize the lens industry? Share your thoughts in the comments below.