24 March 2007

Battle of the Superlenses--Another Revolutionary Tool for Research

Three approaches to the development of the superlens are vying for recognition in the latest edition of Science. The University of Maryland is competing with Caltech and UC Berkeley for supremacy in the "Battle of the Superlenses."
In one study, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, used a metamaterials-based lens paired with a conventional optical lens to reveal patterns too small to be discerned with an ordinary optical microscope. In one experiment, the lens was able to distinguish two 35-nanometer lines etched 150 nanometers apart. Without the metamaterials, the microscope showed only one thick line.

Such a lens could be used to watch cellular processes that have been impossible to see. Conversely, it could be used to project an image with extremely fine features onto a photoresist as a first step in photolithography, a process used to make computer chips. Such detailed resolution would also make it possible to represent more data on the surface of a DVD.

The other two papers describe related advances. Caltech researchers built a microscopic prism using metamaterials that bends green light the opposite way it would bend with an ordinary prism. This could make it possible to create lenses in shapes not possible now, such as space-saving flat lenses.

In the third paper, researchers from the University of Maryland built a lens that can magnify rays of blue-green light emanating from dots just 70 nanometers across. The rays become big enough to be seen by an ordinary optical microscope, giving the device an effective resolution of 70 nanometers. Even better resolution might be observed if smaller dots were used, says Igor Smolyaninov, a Maryland research scientist and author of the paper. He estimates that the method could resolve features as small as 10 nanometers.

Imagine a light microscope with a resolution near that of an electron microscope! These superlenses should also improve technique in photolithography.

Hat tip Advanced Nano.


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