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Physicists Close in on 'Superlens' 199

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the i-am-bender-please-insert-light dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In Oregon, physicists have developed a material for creating a real superlens that in theory could attain a one-nanometer visual resolution. The idea is to use exotic materials to create "negative" refraction of light, which literally means steering it in the opposite direction of that found in the natural world."
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Physicists Close in on 'Superlens'

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  • Aww. (Score:4, Funny)

    by DrEldarion (114072) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @04:32AM (#14390588)
    In a conventional lens, light gets bent

    Poor light. Why is everyone so mean to it? It just wants to be loved, but everyone wants it to get bent.

  • These would be nice! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Z-95 (801437) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @04:36AM (#14390603) Homepage
    Could these be set up like a traditional light microscope to make a cheaper atom scanning microscope than the electron microscope? This could open an entirely new door in the study of atomic particles.
    • by DinZy (513280) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @04:47AM (#14390639)
      How can you really study atoms at the nanometer scale? Atoms are sub nanometer. The use in obsevation lies in some large molecule on large molecule action. The best use would be in making smaller features with photolithography. It may also be useful in quantum computing applications.
    • by dillee1 (741792)
      Not necessarily. All normal material slow down light, and the difference in C at medium interface cause light to bend. The new material that cause light to bend the other way probably means C is higher than C(vacuum). Currently only exotic material like BEC [wikipedia.org] has these properties. These exotic materials are not easy to made/maintain, so are microscope using them.
      BTW TFA has no information about what material/technology does this use. Anyone got links?
      • by phliar (87116)

        The new material that cause light to bend the other way probably means C is higher than C(vacuum).

        No, c is the absolute limit. Nothing -- not even light -- can go faster than c. (It's lower-case c.) Perhaps you're confused about phase velocity [wikipedia.org]. (Also, if it were possible that the velocity of light in this material were higher than c, then its refractive index would be less than one, but never negative.)

        I don't know what the original research actually was, but this article is crap. I can't understand wh

        • by lgw (121541)
          Actually, there's a (theoretical) way for light to move faster than 'c' (and not just the phase velocity). Light can (theoretically) move faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, though not by much, between closely-spaced conducting plates. The Casimir Effect [wikipedia.org] effectively reduces the impedance of vacuum below that of "naturally occuring" vacuum. Of course, if true, this would change anything about relativity, it would just mean we've calibrated 'c' imprecisely.
        • Actually, according to Richard Feynman, light does have the ability to go faster than the speed of light. I'm not sure about the specifics, but for at least some events, there is a an established probability that light will travel between two points in less time than it would take to travel at c. However, at macro scale distances, small variations in the speed of light all cancel out. I read this in Feynman's book QED [amazon.com], which stands for quantum electrodynamics. I highly recommend QED to any non-physicist
        • I think that materials with negative index of refraction do indeed bend light the opposite way a material with positive IR would, as if the speed of light was faster in them. It's not however, it's a trick performed by the small scale structure of the material.
          • I was wrong... that's not quite it. Materials with a negative index of refraction behave as if the light were going in the opposite direction. Even wierder. ;)
    • This could open an entirely new door in the study of atomic particles.

      Or pr0n.

  • They've been around (Score:5, Informative)

    by gardyloo (512791) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @04:39AM (#14390612)
    I'm not sure about the resolution of the previous "negative refractive" lenses, but these things have been around for a few years. Pendry (I think) was one of the first to come up with the split-ring "metamaterial" and show that it can work, but the concept for these things has been around since Veselago came up with them, oh, about 40 years ago. People (including my advisor) have recently been proposing or demonstrating "negative refraction" acoustical materiaals, too. As far as I can make out from the summary, the OSU work is notable because this lens might work with optical frequencies, rather than in the radio and microwave regime, as previous optical metamaterials had to do.

        Incidentally, people will find better information by searching for "left-handed" and "metamaterial" rather than "negative index" on the various sites.
    • by philbert2.71828 (781399) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @06:00AM (#14390855)
      You can find more information about this research at Podolskiy's web page [oregonstate.edu]. It looks like the web site has some good information, including Java applets showing how a superlens should work. Incidently, I am an undergrad physics student at OSU and I talked to Poldolskiy about doing some research for him last summer, but it didn't work out. It's nice to see he got something published on this though - he was explaining it to me last year but I can't remember much of it now.
      • This is why you make friends with an English or other liberal arts major.

        From Podolskiy's web page:

        "Why study the NIMs? First and foremost, these materials are unique in a number of ways. Thus, they literary reverse some of the well-known fundamentals of modern optics."

        Oops.
    • That's exactly it. The work with microwaves shows the effect is real (by resolving features smaller than the wavelength of the microwaves) but isn't really useful since we can get that kind of resolution by just using light. This could actually allow us to see things better.
  • Negative Refraction (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HateBreeder (656491) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @04:39AM (#14390613)
    I thought you can get negative refraction, when an electromagnetic wave passes through a "Metamaterial [darpa.mil]" i.e. One with Negative Permittivity and Permeability.

    (for instnace, in a dispersive plasma cloud)
  • by Flying pig (925874) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @04:41AM (#14390619)
    I hate to say this (well, actually, I don't, I love to be pedantic like this) but if a real lens can be made to behave like this, then its properties are part of the "natural world". We just haven't experienced it before.

    Anybody who has ever done a university course on optics and so has come across phenomena like double refraction, which is truly weird the first time you see it, will know that there are plenty of strange things in optics. But that doesn't make them unnatural.

  • by agm (467017) * on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @04:43AM (#14390623)
    I always thought that zone plates [wikipedia.org] ("lenses" that use diffraction instead of refraction) give a higher degree of accuracy a lower wavelengths. Zone plates are often used where a traditional lens is opaque to certain wavelengths outside of the visible spectrum.
    • by imsabbel (611519) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @05:06AM (#14390714)
      The problem with zone plates are:
      - INSANE chromatic abberation (linear z-dispersion with wavelenght)
      - Multiple orders of refraction (the spot that has the 1st order in focus also shows the higher orders unfocused, so the effective spot is MUCH larger)
      - VERY low efficiency (talk about 1/100ths of the photons to actually get where they are supposed to)

      They are nice were there is nothing else available (or possible because of beamline restrictions, like when there is no space for glancing angle mirrors &co), but sadly they arent that good...
  • E=MC^2, yo. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PopeOptimusPrime (875888) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @04:46AM (#14390632)
    In a conventional lens where refraction in 'positive', the light is bent because as it enters the lens it slows down.

    Does this mean that in this 'superlens' light will speed up as it enters, traveling faster than the established speed of light?
    • Re:E=MC^2, yo. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by wills4223 (303050)
      Yes in fact the light is going faster then the speed of light in space however the laws of relativity still hold because information still can't be transmitted faster then c.
      • Sounds like the secret to perpetual motion. Use this material to speed up something without expending any energy...
    • Its even stranger... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by imsabbel (611519)
      Light gets faster if the refraction index is between 0 and 1. For example x-rays in most forms of condensed matter.
      A negative index of refraction would strickly speaking mean the photons are moving backwards when entering...
      • by bw_bur (634734) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @07:03AM (#14391033)
        This is an element of truth in this. The group velocity and the phase velocity are in opposite directions. The group velocity (which determines the flow of energy, and the direction and speed of information transfer -- and photons) would point away from the boundary, while the phase velocity points towards the boundary.

        It should also be noted that these negative index materials rely on resonant behaviour, and are consequently highly dispersive.

    • Re:E=MC^2, yo. (Score:2, Insightful)

      as far as i remember, materials in which the index of refraction is below 1 are quite common, metals show this behaviour with high frequency light. feynmann explained it quite nicely back in 1960, so it must have been common knowledge back then. maybe the new thing is finding materials to get this to work with visible light?

      the method to finding how light travels which i've always used is to build wavefronts each c/(f*n) apart and see what happens (of course, you have to build a lot of wavefronts, but eve

      • by kfg (145172)
        feynmann explained this clearly in the (first volume?) of his lectures, i imagine everybody here has read them...

        Dude, most people here don't even read TFAs.

        KFG
      • The refractive index is the sine of the angle of refraction over the sine of the angle of incidence. A negative index of refraction means the light is being refracted on the same side of the normal as it came in on, giving a negative angle of refraction.
      • s/speed/velocity/ and the physics is fine.
    • Re:E=MC^2, yo. (Score:2, Informative)

      by the ed menace (30307)
      The effect is largey attributed to Pendry. It was very contentious in the physics community until last year, when it was generally accepted that the eminescent wave was the process by which the light travelled (otherwise you have supraluminal propagation.)

      The ramifications of this technology are very large, not just for the optical realm, but for other frequencies also.
  • by johst (943142) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @04:52AM (#14390656)
    Being a grad student in these kind of things (optics) I just want to clarify that these super-"lenses" do not behave at all like normal lenses. Most importantly, it is impossible to obtain magnification, the image will always be exactly the same size as the object. So it's not really fair to think about them as "lenses".

    A very similar thing is dispersion compensation in fiber-optical communications where the dispersion of one fiber is compensated in another with dispersion of opposite sign. This way, a signal can go through the two fibers without being distorted by the chromatic dispersion. Dispersion and diffraction (i.e. free space light propagation)are mathematically virtually the same thing, and the negative-index material is equivalent to having a fiber with dispersion of the opposite sign. So perhaps it's more right to think about the super.lenses as "diffraction-compensators"?
    • Most importantly, it is impossible to obtain magnification, the image will always be exactly the same size as the object. So it's not really fair to think about them as "lenses".

      Sorry, but could you explain this a bit better? Say I have a 100nm transistor and a superlense. If the "lense" isn't magnifying the 100nm to something larger that I/a camera can see, then what good is it? I'm missing something along the way as to what's actually happening.
    • So how soon before some undergraduate reconfigures the diffraction compensators to generate a tachyon pulse to create time machine? Should only take a few minutes to complete such a reconfiguration.
    • Question:

      If these "lenses" do nothing but sharpen images by "undoing" diffraction, couldn't they be used as a "filter" for a traditional magnifying lens to get better telescopic performance than is currently possible?

      I've always heard that this research would lead to great advances in telescopes, but you post has me tentatively disappointed.
  • Of course the real question is: Will this lens let us look into the past? And if so will tom cruise destroy it for us before the bad guys win?
    • by 246o1 (914193)
      Of course the real question is: Will this lens let us look into the past? And if so will tom cruise destroy it for us before the bad guys win?
      I think you meant "the future" and "ben affleck"
      • Of course the real question is: Will this lens let us look into the past? And if so will tom cruise destroy it for us before the bad guys win?

        I think you meant "the future" and "ben affleck"

        Damn. For a moment there I thought they'd made a movie of The Light of Other Days and I'd somehow missed it...

      • GP is undoubtedly referring to the unreleased sequel, IOU. Apparently the tagline "Remember the past!" didn't fly too well with test audiences, and the idea of a man clinically obsessed with finding a way to show people that funny thing he did at that one party that one time was less compelling on film than paper.
    • Of course the real question is: Will this lens let us look into the past? And if so will tom cruise destroy it for us before the bad guys win?

      When I was in the past, Tom Cruise spoiled it for me, and the bad guys still haven't won. I'm still waiting to find out if he spoils my future though.

      Does that count? ;-P
  • by timerider (14785) <<lemmy> <at> <megatokyo.de>> on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @04:58AM (#14390678) Homepage Journal
    I mean, how do you get 1nm visual resolution, when the wavelength of visual light ranges from 400-800 nm?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      What's with your attachment to the visual spectrum?

      Think outside the box, dude!
    • Well, in a technique unrelated to these special lenses, there is SNOM, or Scanning (Probe) Near-Optical Microscopy, in which an AFM-tip is used through which UV light can be measured (using a fiber). Put a UV source underneath your sample, and use the AFM tip to record an optical image.
      The trick is, that the AFM tip is very close to the surface, much closer than the UV wavelength. Thereby the lightwaves to not have the pathlength to interfere and cancel out, and you can get optical microscopy images with a
    • That's why these lenses are so exciting, they let us resolve below the wavelength of the waves used. 1/400th seems further than before though.
    • by Excors (807434) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @08:56AM (#14391385)
      I remember something about this from Physics World [physicsweb.org], around five months ago. That article reports experiments in which a resolution of a quarter of the wavelength was achieved.
      As far as I can tell, the idea is that diffraction doesn't work quite how it's taught in classrooms: there is a standard "far-field" portion, which is limited to a resolution equal to the wavelength of the light; but there is also a "near-field" portion, which "contains all of the sub-wavelength spatial details about an object, but ... decays quickly as a function of distance from the object". A lens with a refractive index of -1 causes an exponential increase in the near-field waves as they pass through the superlens, and so the information can be more easily recovered, giving an image with better resolution than if only the far-field light was used.
      The object, lens and image all have to be located within the near-field, less than one wavelength in size, else the waves decay too much - that limits the practical applications, but it could apparently be useful for the optical storage industry.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @05:04AM (#14390705)
    So, if you would fill a pool with a fluid with negative refraction, and then would go swimming, how would that look to someone ouside the pool? (Beside funny and quite stupid ...)
  • by Belseth (835595) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @05:11AM (#14390729)
    In Oregon, physicists have developed a material for creating a real superlens that in theory could attain a one-nanometer visual resolution.

    Finally there'll be a way to read all the fine print in service contracts!

  • ...use exotic types of materials, proposed in the late 1960s, to create "negative" refraction of light...larger devices require "artificial" materials - extremely small particles that are combined in an array, acting as an optical magnet and a metal at the same time.

    TFA doesn't tell a lot more than this, and that such lens would be the best thing since sliced bread. But regardless of HOW to make these materials, what are theire properties? Negative (complex?) epsilon and mu? Tensors? Can it be described i

  • by boomgopher (627124) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @05:38AM (#14390788) Journal

    As a Lisp programmer, I chuckle at the artificial distinction between light, lenses, and refraction.



    • Okay, I know 99% of you are thinking this but didn't want to be the one to say it, so I'll take the hit for the team:

      WTF are you talking about? I don't get it.
  • by TheoMurpse (729043) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @05:43AM (#14390799) Homepage
    The idea is to use exotic materials to create "negative" refraction of light, which literally means steering it in the opposite direction of that found in the natural world.

    I have one of those! I call it a *hand quotes* mirror *hand quotes*.
  • Better links (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ortholattice (175065) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @05:52AM (#14390827)
    The original press release (no ads): http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/newsarch/2005/Dec0 5/optics.htm [oregonstate.edu]

    The actual paper (PDF file): http://www.physics.oregonstate.edu/~vpodolsk/repri nts.pdf/resolut.apl2005.pdf [oregonstate.edu]

  • Damn (Score:2, Funny)

    by EBFoxbat (897297)
    I just lost my 13.2 tb negative refraction DVD. Man, it was such a good Windows rebuild. Seriously though, this could be a spiffy application to optical drives... errr negative optical drives.
  • So could we be seeing a new Canon L series lens being made with these?
  • by Vo0k (760020)
    This guy just asked how to speed up sorting rows of a HTML table in Javascript. Of course no matter what algorithm you pick, rewriting DOM is going to be slow.

    So I suggested.
    TD { position: relative }

    row[i].style.top=(height*(newpos-i)) + "px"; ...

    Damn, I'm scared of myself.
  • With one nanometer resolution, instant replay will be more reliable than ever.
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @08:25AM (#14391281)
    "Captain, I canna change the laws of Physics!"

    It would be wonderful if this super lens stuff was correctly explained in the article, BUT:

    • I seem to recall light waves are one heck of a lot longer than a nanometer, like hundreds of times. Viewed as a particle, a photon is similarly huge. To put it into Enquirer-speak: You can't peek into the eye of a needle by throwing bowling balls at it.
    • Regular lenses work by slowing down light. Is it likely that you can speed up light?
    • One nanometer wavelength "light" is somewhere in the gamma-ray area. It's really hard to bend these. Even if you could, most target materials are semi-transparent at these wavelengths. Worse yet, that energy of photon is likely to disrupt whatever it's hitting. Not good for viewing things unless you get off on watching a lot of microscopic Terminator-style explosions.
    • I seem to recall that a lens's resolving power is proportional to the lens width in wavelengths. How wide are these superlenses, and is that wide enough for nanometer resolution?
    • If you did get that level of resolution, which seems mighty doubtful, what is the depth-of-field or width of field? It's not much fun looking through a drinking straw at really out-of-focus blobs.
    • There are already a whole host of super-microscopes of the electron scanning and tunneling varieties.

    All those caveats aside, it does soound really exciting!

    • Regular lenses work by slowing down light. Is it likely that you can speed up light?

      The absolute value of the index is stil 1 which means that the light is still slower than C, it's just bent in the opposite direction when it hits the interface. speed in media = index of refraction * speed of light in vacum

      ahh, I would post more, but I'm late for lunch. I'll be around later.

    • by cnettel (836611) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @11:51AM (#14392410)
      A photon is huge only in the sense that its location is unpredictable along the axis of movement (when the wave-length is well defined, as the wave length is directly related to momentum and Heisenberg applies to each dimension). It is not huge in the sense "can't get into an atom", as you can excite or ionize inner electrons with "just" UV or gamma, which are still far above the distance between atoms in a molecule (which is in the same order of magnitude as 0.1 Nm; 1 Ångström).

      You can't peek into the eye of a needle by throwing bowling balls at it, but you can very well thread a long thread through it, even if the volyme of the thread is far larger than the volume of the eye of the needle. You just need a coherent light source exactly perpendicular to the surface. Then your only problem is diffraction, which is already better mentioned by other posts.

  • by arodland (127775) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @09:07AM (#14391431)
    If this can be applied to photolithography, we should be getting chips with feature sizes smaller than we can even deal with -- for the moment, anyway. I, for one, welcome our new 8-core, 1nm overlords.
  • and i place one in front of an apple... and the sister lens 5000 ft away aimed correctly at the first lens, then the apple will appear in the second lens, same size (no magnification or reduction) ?
    • so if i have two of these lenses and i place one in front of an apple... and the sister lens 5000 ft away aimed correctly at the first lens, then the apple will appear in the second lens, same size (no magnification or reduction) ?
      Yes, but you have to remember to check for the image in the sister lens yesterday !
  • Where's the beef? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Clueless Nick (883532)
    What does the article have to offer on real details? Apart from saying that the scientists have "worked out an optimal configuration" for use with a "superlens", which provides "negative refraction", thus "maximizing the resolution" of the superlens concept, where is the real information I would like to set my teeth on?

    There is no simple diagram showing how superlenses work. If they are bending light unnaturally, i.e. the other way, does this mean you will create convex lenses to see better detail?

    What's
  • by E++99 (880734)

    "...an extraordinary optical device that would bend light the opposite direction of that done by any natural material"

    "...literally means steering it in the opposite direction of that found in the natural world."

    The article makes it abundantly clear that this is not a natural device, but a supernatural device. They are therefore inconsistent in calling these clever people scientists, when they are clealy witch-doctors or magicians (in the Old Testament sense, not in the David Copperfield sense).

  • Wow, with that resolution, we'll finally be able to take a picture of Microsoft's concern for security.
  • We can't just call this a "Nanolens" and get it over with? Nooo... we had to call it a "Superlens"...
  • normal refraction

    light ray
    __\__|
    ___\_|
    ----------- refractive material boundary
    _____|\
    _____|_\
          normal
    obviously i can't tilt slashes any more =) so this is an example of a refractive index of 1

    negative index of refraction

    light ray
    _\__|
    __\_|
    ----------- refractive material boundary
    __/_|
    _/__|
          normal

    refractive index of -1

    This is weird so the hullabaloo
  • From the article: "In theory, a superlens might be able to attain visual resolution at the level of the nanometer"

    "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is..." Groucho Marx (AFAIK)

  • Create "negative" refraction of light, which literally means steering it in the opposite direction of that found in the natural world.

    You mean back in to the asses of arrogant people who are convinced the sun already shines out of their asses?

    How much would this hurt?

    How much would I have to pay to get one?

    How soon can you have it ready?
  • I saw a couple of these "superlenses" last night.

    Joe Paterno was wearing them.

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