Researchers from the University of Michigan have created a super-thin light detector that can pick up the entire infrared spectrum in addition to visible and ultraviolet light. The heat vision technology is made of graphene, which is consid world’s strongest material, and is small enough to fit on a contact lens.
Its developers say the technology could one day give people super-human vision and is particularly relevant for use by the military.
"If we integrate it with a contact lens or other wearable electronics, it expands your vision," Zhaohui Zhong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university, said in a statement. "It provides you another way of interacting with your environment."
One major hurdle Zhong and his team had to clear was creating a heat-vision device that functioned at room temperature. CBS News notes that other infrared detectors get hot and require bulky cooling systems. The University of Michigan design does away with such equipment because of the use of ultra-thin graphene.
According to the study, published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the infrared technology includes an insulating layer inserted between two sheets of graphene that are just one atom thick. Graphene, which is basically a single layer of carbon atoms densely packed in a honeycomb-lattice shape, can sense the whole infrared spectrum.
"We can make the entire design super-thin," Zhong said. "It can be stacked on a contact lens or integrated with a cell phone."
There’s just one setback. A single graphene layer only absorbs about 2.3 percent of light that hits it. Researchers were able to tinker with the graphene’s electron-generating abilities to amplify this effect.
"Our work pioneered a new way to detect light," Zhong said. "We envision that people will be able to adopt this same mechanism in other material and device platforms."