Infrared Light has many mysteries, and at ER Optics we work with many parts of technology to reveal this range of light. And now, scientists at Cambridge University have unveiled a new way to see the formerly invisible infrared light.
An ER Precision Optical Side Note:
Every once in a while, we research a new technological discovery that is so amazing, we want to shout the big news in all the headlines. However, some technological developments are quiet discoveries you might never hear about in mainstream news.
That is why we like sharing global news about optical and technological topics. We strive to keep you informed of the latest and most fascinating technological discoveries. And, as our title specifies, finding a new way to “see” infrared light certainly qualifies.
That is exactly the latest finding from Cambridge University research teams. And thus, it is our topic today.
A Deep Dive into Seeing Infrared Light a New Way
Put simply, Cambridge scientists have discovered a technology that makes a Color-changing magnifying glass give observers a clear view of infrared light. They did not do it with smoke and mirrors or black magic.
However, it might sound like science fiction to you. We all know that by its very nature, infrared light is not visible to our eyes.
And yet, Cambridge scientists have accomplished this feat. They use a magnifying glass to capture the light. However, it is no ordinary magnifying glass.
1. In short, they trap the light into tiny crevices of gold within the magnifying glass.
2. Thus, they coax the molecules to convert invisible infrared into visible light.
3. And you might ask, what good is this? We answer by reminding you this paves the way to “create new, low-cost detectors for sensing.”
A Little Backstory
Let’s reverse our thought process a moment and recall how we currently detect infrared light. Remember it is light beyond the visible red range of our eyes.
Infrared light is difficult to detect, because “infrared light carries so little energy compared to ambient heat at room temperature.” In the past, and currently, this lack of energy obscured infrared light.
Thus, we have been forced to utilize specialized detectors. We must chill such instruments “to very low temperatures, which is both expensive and energy-intensive.”
Developing New Sensors for Infrared Light
However, the above-mentioned researchers at the University of Cambridge “demonstrated a new concept in detecting infrared light…” As explained above, they showed “how to convert it into visible light, which is easily detected.”
Experimenting With a New Way to See Empowers An International Discovery
The Cambridge team worked with scientists from the UK, Spain, and Belgium.
- Essentially, the team used a single layer of molecules to absorb the mid-infrared light inside their vibrating chemical bonds within a magnifying glass. (And the molecules were literally golden.)
- Then, the shaking molecules “donate their energy to visible light that they encounter.”
- They up-convert the energy to emissions that are “closer to the blue end of the spectrum…”
- Thus, modern visible-light cameras can then see infrared light.
Reasons for Excitement Behind the Discovery
The results of being able to see the invisible light, open new low-cost ways to do many technological and manufacturing processes:
- Firstly, with this new technology, we can sense contaminants.
- Likewise, with medical instrumentation and this new technology, we will be able to track cancers.
- And now we can better check gas mixtures remotely.
- Therefore, it is no surprise there will be outer space applications. Additionally, this technology will help us sense the gaseous mysteries of our outer universe.
The Enigma of Making Infrared Light Visible
Researchers had to make sure the quaking molecules within the magnifying glass met the visible light quickly enough or the cameras would not be able to “see” it. Angelos Xomalis from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory reported, “This meant we had to trap light really tightly around the molecules…” Thus, the scientists squeezed the light into crevices surrounded by gold.”
The scientists explained they had to create a way to “sandwich single molecular layers between a mirror and tiny chunks of gold…” They reported that they used special “meta-materials” “that can twist and squeeze light into volumes a billion times smaller than a human hair.”
Infrared Light and Visible Light in the Same Vision
They further explained, “Trapping these different colors of light at the same time was hard.” They never lost sight of their mission which was to find a way to see infrared light without the high expense of regular sensors.
Unlike some scientific investigations, they looked for practical, economical results, according to Dr. Rohit Chikkaraddy from the Cavendish Laboratory. He set up experiments “based on his simulations of light in these building blocks.”
A Comparison Between Light and Sound
Professor Jeremy Baumberg of the NanoPhotonics Centre at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory explained. He stated the difficulty of their infrared work with an analogy to experimenting with sound. He said, “It’s like listening to slow-rippling earthquake waves by colliding them with a violin string…” And he added, “to get a high whistle that’s easy to hear, and without breaking the violin.”
Marking The Early Days of New Infrared Light Research
The scientists emphasized that there will be many ways to optimize inexpensive molecular detectors. However, the invention of a color-changing magnifying glass to see hitherto-invisible infrared light will undoubtedly lead us to new insights.
Terrific Take-Aways from Infrared Light Sensors
As we stated above, scientists expect to see their sensors used in multiple technologies. The applications of these magnifying glass and gold sensors range from “astronomical observations of galactic structures to sensing human hormones, or early signs of invasive cancers.”
Who would have ever dreamed that a color-changing magnifying glass laced with gold could open so many opportunities?
We hope you found this new infrared sensor research as fascinating as we did. And we will update you as scientists continue to create the story of making invisible light visible.
Once again, we thank you for reading our ER Precision Optics blog, and we invite you to return regularly for new worldwide technological stories.