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New nanotech crystal film will allow people to see in the dark – and could revolutionise night vision

Researchers have developed a new proof of concept technology that will allow people to see clearly in the dark and could revolutionise night-vision.

The first of its kind tech could one day work on standard glasses, allowing the wearer to see in the dark (Generic library image)

The first-of-its-kind tech, created by an international team involving The Australian National University (ANU) and Nottingham Trent University, is ultra-compact and could one day work on standard glasses.

The work has involved developing a new thin film, consisting of nanometre-scale crystals – hundreds of times thinner than human hair – that can be directly applied to glasses to act as a filter, allowing the user to see in the dark.

The researchers say the new tech could one day be used for defence and security, as well as making it safer for people to drive at night and walk home after dark.

Current night vision devices capture the invisible light and project an image of surrounding objects on display in front of the viewer’s eyes. Such technology requires cryogenic cooling for high-end performance, making the night vision cameras and helmets bulky and costly.

The new technology, however, is extremely lightweight, cheap and easy to mass produce – making it accessible to everyday users.

Dr Mohsen Rahmani, an associate professor in the Department of Engineering at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology – and a UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellow – led the development of nanoscale crystal films.

He said: “We previously demonstrated the potential of individual nanoscale crystals to make this possible, but to translate such potential to our everyday life we had to overcome enormous challenges to arrange the crystals in an array fashion. Now, one can imagine seeing in the dark via engineered glass surfaces such as goggles, house windows and car windscreens.

“While this is the first proof-of-concept experiment, we are actively working to further advance the technology. In the longer term, we hope to reach a massive reduction in greenhouse gases associated with a world where the lighting was not required to see at night, particularly in areas with low-levels of urban and road illuminations.”

ANU’s lead postdoctoral researcher, Dr Rocio Camacho Morales, said: “We have made the invisible visible. Our technology is able to transform infrared light, normally invisible to the human eye, and turn this into images people can clearly see – even at distance.”

Dragomir Neshev, Director of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Transformative Meta-Optical Systems (TMOS) and ANU Professor in Physics, said the new tech used meta-surfaces, or thin films, to manipulate light in new ways.

“This is the first time anywhere in the world that infrared light has been successfully transformed into visible images in an ultra-thin screen,” Professor Neshev said.

“It’s a really exciting development and one that we know will change the landscape for night vision forever.”

Dr Lei Xu, another scientist on the project from Nottingham Trent University engineering department, added: “We are aiming to enhance the performance of the thin films via innovative modelling techniques based on machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

The new tech has been developed by an international team of researchers from TMOS, ANU, Nottingham Trent University, The University of New South Wales, and European partners.

The research is published in the journal Advanced Photonics.

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    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students. NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience.

    The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available. It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year. With an international student population of more than 3,000 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook. The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was awarded University of the Year in the UK Social Mobility Awards 2019.

New nanotech crystal film will allow people to see in the dark – and could revolutionise night vision

Published on 15 June 2021
  • Subject area: Computing, engineering, maths and other technologies
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Science and Technology

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