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'Smart' Contact Lenses Made Possible By Stretchable Nano-Devices

First Posted: Feb 19, 2016 10:16 AM EST
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A collaborative effort from the University of Adelaide and RMIT University developed a stretchable nano-scale device that can be used to manipulate light and filter specific colors while still being transparent, paving the way for the creation of "smart" contact lenses.

This technology would allow for the creation of high-tech contacts that could do any number of things: filter out optical radiation without vision interference, transmit data and gather information on vitals, and potentially allow for a HUD, or head-up display

The University of Adelaide researchers specialize in the interaction of light with artificial materials, and the RMIT collaborators had expertise in materials science and nanofabrication, making the project a perfect challenge for the two.

"Manipulation of light using these artificial crystals uses precise engineering," Withawat Withayachumnankul of the University of Adelaide's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering said, according to a news release. "With advanced techniques to control the properties of surfaces, we can dynamically control their filter properties, which allow us to potentially create devices for high data-rate optical communication or smart contact lenses."

"The current challenge is that dielectric resonators only work for specific colors, but with our flexible surface we can adjust the operation range simply by stretching it," he added.

The device uses tiny, artificial crystals it creates, called dielectric resonators, to manipulate light. These resonators are 100 to 200 nanometers in length, 500 times thinner than human hair and a fraction of light's wavelength.

Additionally, the team made the device on a rubber-like material used for contacts, and "embed[ded] precisely-controlled crystals of titanium oxide, a material that is usually found in sunscreen, in these soft and pliable materials. Both materials are proven to be bio-compatible, forming an ideal platform for wearable optical devices," according to Madhu Bhaskaran, the co-leader of the Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group at RMIT.

The engineering of the materials shape allowed the team to create a device that changes its properties when its stretched, which modifies light's interaction and ability to travel through the device, according to Bhaskaran.

"With this technology, we now have the ability to develop light weight wearable optical components which also allow for the creation of futuristic devices such as smart contact lenses or flexible ultra thin smartphone cameras," Philipp Gutruf, lead author from RMIT, said.

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