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Physicists Close in on 'Superlens'

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the i-am-bender-please-insert-light dept.

Science 199

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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199 comments

in other news... (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14390582)

Anonymous Cowards close in on 'First Post!'

In other news... (-1, Flamebait)

Penguinoflight (517245) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390584)

...scienceblog has apparently mastered the art of time travel by writing an article regarding a technology that has been developed that 'would' do all kinds of spectacular non-natural things. There is no news here, and the slow news day excuse doesn't apply either.

Re:In other news... (1)

Arngautr (745196) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390780)

WTF the only people this flames/incites others to flame are the /. editors and the blogs. This would normally merit the flamebait status, but they deserve it here. As pointed out this is old news.

Re:In other news... (1)

Arngautr (745196) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390796)

I suppose I read the parent wrong... but only because of my need to see someone here recognize that this is old news.

Aww. (4, Funny)

DrEldarion (114072) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Obligatory (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14390700)

In a conventional lens, light gets bent

In Soviet Russia, light bend YOU!

Re:Obligatory (1, Troll)

jibjibjib (889679) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390910)

$%^@$^ how come your soviet jokes get 'Funny' and mine get 'Troll'? The mods are out to get me! Everyone's out to get me! hey, just because i'm paranoid doesn't mean everyone's *not* out to get me.

look in the mirror (0)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390798)

Why is everyone so mean to it? It just wants to be loved, but everyone wants it to get bent.
You ever look in the mirror after a night of hard partying?

That's why people tell light to get bent.

These would be nice! (5, Interesting)

Z-95 (801437) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390603)

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.

Re:These would be nice! (5, Informative)

DinZy (513280) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:These would be nice! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14390735)

WTF are you talking about?
First of all electron microscopes are relatively cheap and then you don't get resolutions down to atom-size with electron microscopes. No even close.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scanning_electron_mic roscope [wikipedia.org]

Re:These would be nice! (4, Interesting)

Teclis (772299) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391178)

FYI. Scanning tunneling electron microscopes do get atomic resolution. Scanning electron microscopes do not.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scanning_tunneling_mi croscope [wikipedia.org]

Re:These would be nice! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14391411)

Did you even read the first line of the article you linked to?

Scanning Tunneling Microscopes (STMs) != Scanning Electron Microscope (SEMs).
STMs are *not* called electron microscopes.

If someone says electron microscope, he usually means a SEM or maybe a TEM but none of those have single-atom resolution.

HTH,
HAND

Re:These would be nice! (2, Informative)

dillee1 (741792) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391291)

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?

They've been around (5, Informative)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

More information about their work (5, Informative)

philbert2.71828 (781399) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:They've been around (1)

m50d (797211) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390912)

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.

Re:They've been around (1)

catmistake (814204) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391441)

How about a simple diagram? TFA is beautifully ambiguous. I can visualize normal refraction... but I'm just not understanding what "negative" refraction means. Can this property be displayed in a simple diagram? I took a look at the applet linked to the child post... it doesn't really help (unless, I suppose, you already know what you're looking at).

Negative Refraction (5, Interesting)

HateBreeder (656491) | more than 8 years ago | (#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)

Re:Negative Refraction (1)

m50d (797211) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390939)

Yep. But this is the first time anyone's managed to do it with something with as short wavelengths as light.

Re:Negative Refraction (5, Informative)

bw_bur (634734) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391023)

It's not quite the first time. Zhang's group in Berkeley published a paper in spring last year (Science 308, 534-537 [sciencemag.org]) describing experiments on the silver superlens, which works at optical frequencies. There have been other similar experiments since then.

Re:Negative Refraction (1)

bw_bur (634734) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390953)

That's what the article is about.

How does a plasma cloud give you negative magnetic permeability? There would certainly be a regime of negative permittivity (just like in an ordinary metal), but I'm pretty sure the permeability would not be negative.

Please enlighten me if I'm wrong; if not, the parent post is incorrect.

So what is this non-natural world? (5, Insightful)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:So what is this non-natural world? (2, Insightful)

DigitalReality (903767) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390716)

"natural world" refers to light found naturally, without artificial generation or alteration. In this case, they're doing something that makes it bend in a way that it doesn't naturally do without our intervention.

Re:So what is this non-natural world? (2, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390831)

And humans live outside nature? Everything is part of nature. I think this is was the original post was trying to convey. The idea that humans exist outside of nature only leads to poor conclusions.

Re:So what is this non-natural world? (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390847)

If you wish to evolve a Ferrari, first evolve an engineer.

KFG

Nothing's not natural? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14390928)

Um, using that logic, does that mean that nothing exists that isn't "natural?" Since invisible men in togas that create the universe and red fur-clad elves that visit every child one night a year are human concepts, does that make them natural too? Since humans are natural, and humans made rutherfordium [wiktionary.org], does that make rutherfordium natural?

Re:So what is this non-natural world? (1)

DigitalReality (903767) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390975)

Humans are natural, but the things they create, or do to existing things are not always considered that way. That is the difference between natural, and man-made.

The process of in-vitro fertilization is an unnatural one, but the resulting child development and growth, is natural.

It's not that humans exist outside of nature, it's the fact that what they do sometimes does.

Natural:
"Characterized by spontaneity and freedom from artificiality, affectation, or inhibitions."
"Not altered, treated, or disguised"
- Natural [answers.com]

Re:So what is this non-natural world? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14391049)

Logically, then, termite mounds, beaver dams and bird's nests are also un-natural. Right?

Re:So what is this non-natural world? (1)

ichigo 2.0 (900288) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391451)

I don't see any humans building those things. What's the point in having the word if one defines it in such a way that it can never be used?

Re:So what is this non-natural world? (1, Insightful)

bw_bur (634734) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390996)

Negative refraction is not found in nature, in the same way that cars are not found in nature. In this sense it is not "natural".

You want to insist on labelling all man-made creations as natural, because man is part of nature, but this seems unhelpful and rather pointless. In this case there it is obvious that "natural" means "not made by man".

What about zone plates? (4, Interesting)

agm (467017) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:What about zone plates? (4, Informative)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 8 years ago | (#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. (3, Interesting)

PopeOptimusPrime (875888) | more than 8 years ago | (#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. (2, Interesting)

wills4223 (303050) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390680)

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.

Re:E=MC^2, yo. (1)

HermanAB (661181) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390703)

Sounds like the secret to perpetual motion. Use this material to speed up something without expending any energy...

Re:E=MC^2, yo. (1)

Chrispy1000000 the 2 (624021) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390946)

It's not getting sped up. It's just getting there quicker. Think about it this way: you know those little marbles on strings, where when you hit one, the one on the end bounces? Well, that's sorta what's happening here. A wavelet of light hit's the incident, and out the other side pops a identical wavelet of light. There's some other stuff there, about infomation theory, and exactly how light is 'bumped', but I'll leave it at that for now.

Re:E=MC^2, yo. (1)

NeMon'ess (160583) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391325)

Seems to me your analogy only works if the marble is swinging at the speed of light when it hits the others. At which point if the last marble bounces up faster than the first marble could have reached it, the energy from the first was transmitted faster than the speed of light.

Its even stranger... (2, Interesting)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390718)

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...

Re:Its even stranger... (4, Informative)

bw_bur (634734) | more than 8 years ago | (#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. (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390776)

No,
It means that light will be travelling faster than the surrounding material.
If you shine light through (for instance) glass and out into air, it would appear to have negative refraction, but its all just relative.
I think anyway, I haven't done this kind of stuff for a while.

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

howlingmadhowie (943150) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390789)

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 every classical optical problem can be solved this way, as it closely mirrors what the maxwell laws mean). having a refractive index of less than one does not make the light move faster, just the wavefront for a wave with a stable frequency. if you change the frequency, amplitude, fourier-thingy, whatever of the wave, the change in the wavefronts won't move faster than the speed of light, so no information can be conducted. as said, feynmann explained this clearly in the (first volume?) of his lectures, but i imagine everybody here has read them...

what a negative index of refraction could possibly mean is beyond me. if you choose snell's law to define the index of refraction then you get in trouble here (v = c/n therefore the speed of the wavefront is negative?). i imagine there's another more general definition of n which i don't know. anybody here have an idea?

howie

Re:E=MC^2, yo. (3, Funny)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390870)

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

Re:E=MC^2, yo. (1)

m50d (797211) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390920)

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.

Re:E=MC^2, yo. (1)

bw_bur (634734) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391047)

Snell's law doesn't give you any problems -- the angle of refraction is negative, ie. the light bends back on itself.

The point about the speed of light is more interesting. In negative index materials, the group and phase velocities are in opposite directions. Energy and information flow in the direction of the group velocity, which is always less than c.

Metals have negative dielectric permittivity, but positive magnetic permeability. Having both negative is completely new.

Re:E=MC^2, yo. (2, Informative)

the ed menace (30307) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391184)

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.

Nobel Prize Time? (0)

squoozer (730327) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390652)

I would put good money on these researchers getting the nobel prize at some point in the future if they can pull this off. It'll be interesting to see how this develops. Hopefully that it will eventually be fairly easy to make materials with negative refractive indexes.

Not lenses - diffraction compensators! (5, Informative)

johst (943142) | more than 8 years ago | (#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"?

Re:Not lenses - diffraction compensators! (1)

javajosh (605786) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390791)

I know a little something about optics - if the material has a negative index of refraction, can't you use a concave (rather than convex) lense for a magnified image?

Or perhaps I am not understanding what this material does, since a negative R_i indicates that the material permits light to go faster than c!

Re:Not lenses - diffraction compensators! (2, Informative)

bw_bur (634734) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391066)

Yes, you can still build a magnifying lens out of a negative index material. However, a thin flat sheet of this material is already a "superlens"; it doesn't magnify, but produces (in theory at least) a perfect image, with no loss in resolution. Even the near-field (evanescent, exponentially-decaying) components are restored and focused.

Of course, in reality, the resolution is limited by absorption and the length-scale of the artificial structures.

Light doesn't go faster than c in these materials... see some of my other posts on this...

Re:Not lenses - diffraction compensators! (1)

Rufus211 (221883) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390800)

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.

Re:Not lenses - diffraction compensators! (1)

johst (943142) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390852)

I'm not saying that superlensing is a bad thing, it is still very cool for situations where you don't want magnification. In lithography you could for instance image a very high res mask with 100nm lines onto a the silicon chip that you want to process. The very high res mask in turn can be manufactured using electron beam lithography which already has a resolution much better than 100 nm (but is too expensive for anything else than the masks). It could also be used as a "lens" between a fiber end and a waveguide. Unlike normal lenses, the lateral position of super-lenses doesn't matter, so you would not have to align the superlens very accurately. Alignment of single-mode fibers is normally very expensive and probably accounts for most of the cost in making single-mode fiber equipment, so alignment free "lenses" would be a great thing.

Re:Not lenses - diffraction compensators! (1)

XchristX (839963) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390806)

Hey is it very accurate to call it a "negative refraction"? Since N=Sqrt(e*mu) it must always be positive real or complex (in which case the wave gets damped).

If defined that way, wouldn't a -ve index violate causality?
Let me also ask how you folks define refraction. Do you define it in terms of directionality (the wave that's deflected into the other medium) or in terms of polarization & phase change? Jackson (p303) implicitly defines refraction as that part of the final solution of maxwells equations (with the incident wave as the initial conditions) with the same sign of

\arrow(k).\hat(n)

as the incident wave and the reflected wave as the one with the opposite sign. The derivation of the reflected and refracted wave isan a-posteriori one but one that is the standard. In your theoretical models, are you using a similar a-posteriori trial solution (you assume that there is 'negative refraction' and plug that solution into Maxwell's Eqns and brute force it into the boundary conditions) to get this negative refraction, or is this just a matter of semantics to call it 'negative refraction' and what you're really getting is some sort of directional backscattering effect caused by the geometry of the constituents of your material.


Also, if the reflected wave is the same as before, then wont the normal component of the dielectric displacement no longer be continuous at the interface, violating Maxwell's Equations?

Re:Not lenses - diffraction compensators! (2, Interesting)

johst (943142) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390884)

I don't know of any experiments with "real" negative-index-materials. The material in these "lenses" has a positive index, but since they have a periodic structure with a period close to the wavelength of the light they behave as being negative-index. These meta-materials are often called "Photonic crystals". The effect of the negative index is that rays are bent "the wrong way" such that rays from a single point refocus at the same distance within the crystal and hence create the 1:1 image. It's very much like a grating, only a very complicated 2D or 3D grating.

Now I'm getting into deep waters, but I don't think that you get super-resolution (better than the wavelength of the light) unless image is close enough to be within region where the evanescent waves still exist.

Re:Not lenses - diffraction compensators! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14391422)

ISN'T - the contracted form of IS NOT

Where the fuck did you get 'isan' from?

The real question is (1)

chabotc (22496) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390668)

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?

Re:The real question is (2, Insightful)

246o1 (914193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390770)

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"

Re:The real question is (1)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391111)

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...

Is that really possible? (5, Interesting)

timerider (14785) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390678)

I mean, how do you get 1nm visual resolution, when the wavelength of visual light ranges from 400-800 nm?

Re:Is that really possible? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14390746)

What's with your attachment to the visual spectrum?

Think outside the box, dude!

Re:Is that really possible? (1)

Rothron the Wise (171030) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390778)

With 1nm photons you don't need negative refraction to get 1nm resolution. You can get
that with traditional methods. 1nm is in the soft x-ray area, which seriously limits what you can
look at.

Re:Is that really possible? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391048)

Er, how else are you going to get a lens for 1nm wavelength light? The wavelength of light really is a fundamental obstruction to your resolution. Sorry, you're not going to get 1nm resolution with visible light no matter what you use for a lens.

Re:Is that really possible? (1)

Vo0k (760020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391198)

IANAPhysicist, but IIRC (sorry for the abuse) if light hits objects comparable/smaller than its wavelength it gets diffracted but still the "middle dot" remains the strongest. You lose focus and contrast but if you get to filter out the non-diffracted component, you're home. Of course squeezing toothpaste back into the tube is way easier.

Re:Is that really possible? (2, Informative)

toQDuj (806112) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390866)

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 resolution of about 1/10th the wavelength of the used source.

B.

Re:Is that really possible? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14391318)

How can an electric eye be attached to the end of the AFM-tip? Or does the light travel through a hole in the AFM-tip (you do say "through") to an electric eye mounted at the other end?

Re:Is that really possible? (1)

m50d (797211) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390925)

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.

Re:Is that really possible? (0)

cruachan (113813) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391031)

I agree, this is clearly junk science. It's impossible for a wave to be affected by an object which is smaller than half it's wavelength.

Re:Is that really possible? (1)

JohnPM (163131) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391425)

That "law" is predicated on the supposed non-existance of negative refraction. This assumption has already been demonstrated to be wrong for microwaves.

There's nothing junk about this area of research because every advance has been well demonstrated, highly repeatable and supported by more fundamental theory.

Re:Is that really possible? (1)

utter_tosser (137550) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391156)

I routinely image objects of 80nm using fluorescence widefield microscopy in live cellular imaging, often using multiple labels which aid in looking for the co-localisation of specific proteins. As long as the signal to noise ratio is low, which can be improved with confocal microscopy, however we are achieving this with of the shelf equipment daily. Image deconvolution of course helps.

Re:Is that really possible? (5, Informative)

Excors (807434) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

How would that look? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#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 ...)

mod 3o1wn (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14390728)

their pa8ti8g

Major advance possible. (5, Funny)

Belseth (835595) | more than 8 years ago | (#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!

Physical properties? (1)

elgatozorbas (783538) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390743)

...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 in terms of 'classical' material constants at all?

Re:Physical properties? (1)

bw_bur (634734) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391243)

To get a negative refractive index requires both epsilon and mu to be negative. For a "superlens", the ideal value is -1 for both.

A metamaterial is structured on a scale much smaller than the wavelength. It can then be treated as an effective medium; in this approximation, the material parameters are just like the classical ones. The approximation breaks down if you look too closely -- at a length scale comparable with that of the structure -- just as it does for normal materials (where the scale of the structure corresponds to the distance between neighbouring atoms).

As a Lisp programmer (5, Funny)

boomgopher (627124) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390788)


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



Re:As a Lisp programmer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14390874)

You forgot to add some smiLISPies: ((((:)())((:)())))
 

I'm a Physics God (4, Funny)

TheoMurpse (729043) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390799)

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*.

Breakthrough! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14390836)

Now ScuttleMonkey will be able to see his penis for the first time!

Damn (2, Funny)

EBFoxbat (897297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390859)

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.

New L series lens in the works? (2, Funny)

reub2000 (705806) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390945)

So could we be seeing a new Canon L series lens being made with these?

Damn me. (1)

Vo0k (760020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391234)

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.

mandatory Star Trek quote (2, Interesting)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 8 years ago | (#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!

Re:mandatory Star Trek quote (1)

Frisson (252387) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391423)

I don't know a great deal about the subject but here's my two cents anyway.

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.

Not sure how a photon can be huge, as such as it has no mass, just an associated energy. It's the diffraction limit that causes the problem, which can already be overcome in the near field (very close to the instrument ~few nm). These lenses could therefore possibly improve current near field optical techniques.

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.


They won't be using gamma rays.

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

Depth and width of fields aren't really relevent here, the implementation will probably involve single point measurements using a probe analogous to a fibre optic, coupled with a very high precision scanning head, allowing images to be constructed.

There are already a whole host of super-microscopes of the electron scanning and tunneling varieties.

Yes, but the methods proposed here are probably going to be cheaper, easier (no high vacuum requirement etc) and give extra information about the chemical and optical properties of the material through spectroscopic and polarisation state analyses.

Any new develoments in this area will be a boon for activities in nanometrology and biometric areas.

So are we going to see this in UV? (2, Interesting)

arodland (127775) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.
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