Could today’s smart phones be tomorrow’s laughingstocks?

We laugh today at how ridiculously oversized the first mobile phones were — think Gordon Gekko talking into what looked like a shoebox while walking on the beach in the movie “Wall Street.”

But will tomorrow’s cellphones make today’s smart devices look just as comically large?

Researchers exploring the possibilities of nanoscale technologies believe it’s possible. One international team, for example, is working to develop an ultra-thin lens that could be used in everything from cellphones to cameras to fiber-optic communication systems.

How thin? Imagine 1500 lenses fitting across the width of a human hair. Or smart phones as thin as a credit card.

For now, the lens the researchers have developed works only at a specific wavelength. Eventually, though, they expect to be able to redesign it for use across a broad spectrum of light.

Not only is the lens super-flat, but it’s amazingly distortion-free. Today’s lenses still aren’t thin or flat enough to eliminate image problems like spherical aberration, astigmatism or coma, all of which keep images from being as sharp as they could be. The research team’s lens, on the other hand, has a resolving power that appoaches the theoretical limits set by the laws of optics.

The innovative lens is described in the journal Nano Letters.


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