Get out your Easy Bake Ovens and your polydimethylsiloxane, it’s time to make some lenses. Okay, okay… so it’s not that easy. But researchers at an Australian University have developed a new way to make extremely inexpensive, high-quality lenses by using nothing more than droplets of a transparent silicon and an oven to cure said droplets in.
We’ve probably all noticed that small droplets of water act almost identical to a lens. Well, the Research School of Engineering at Australian National University decided to make these droplet-lenses more permanent by using an extremely transparent silicon instead of water, and they’ve figured out an extremely efficient and cost-effective way to do so.
What comes out the other end are individual lenses that cost little as a few pennies a piece!
“Because they’re so inexpensive, the lenses can be used in a variety of applications,” they explain in the research paper. “Including tools to detect diseases in the field, scientific research in the lab and optical lenses and microscopes for education in classrooms.”
Using nothing more than gravity, viscosity and layers of the gel to shape the lenses, there’s no need for complicated (and therefore expensive) machinery to create these little optics. If they need more magnification, they simply tweak the amount and viscosity of the layers to produce a wider or tighter focal length.
And the lenses that come out the other end can be used in a plethora of applications. One example is pairing these cheap lenses with any cellphone camera to create a dermascope. Instead of a $500 piece of machinery, a portable, almost disposable piece of plastic can be used to help diagnose skin-related issues anywhere in the world for mere pennies (assuming someone has a cellphone, which most do).
Another use shown is for farmers who are looking to properly identify the various pests out in their crops. Oftentimes these little creatures are far too small to see what they are without proper magnification, but with the help of these little lenses, they can identify on-the-go and properly treat fields as needed.
If you’d like to read up on the research in more detail, you can check out the entire paper by clicking here.
Image credits: Images courtesy of Optics Info Base and Optical Image Society