Contact lenses with night vision could be on the way thanks to graphene breakthrough

Lenses made from the atom-thick 'wonder material' could be used in phones or even contact lenses to make night vision available for all

Night vision technology has been around for a while, but it's only really used by professionals (or professional creeps) due to its prohibitive size.

But what if night vision was something you could fit into a pair of contact lenses? You could keep a pair in your bag to slip in if you were going to be walking home alone in the dark, or even use them to take a night-time jaunt through a forest without spooking all the animals.

All this and more could be possible in the future thanks to a new development by researchers in the US using graphene lenses to sense “the full infrared spectrum” plus visible and ultraviolet light.

"We can make the entire design super-thin," said Zhaohui  Zhong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan. "It can be stacked on a contact lens or integrated with a cell phone."

Current night vision technology needs bulky cooling equipment to stop the detectors getting confused by their own heat radiation, but the graphene-based models can do the same job using just a few layers of the atom-thick material.

The most effective night vision technology works by capturing the infrared portion of the light spectrum – this is the part that is emitted as heat by objects, instead of reflected as light.

Even the smallest and most modern night vision tech is pretty bulky.

Zhong suggests that the infrared-capturing graphene lenses could therefore be used for more than just night vision. The technology could help doctors monitor blood flow without having to move a patient or subject them to any scans, or be used by art historians to examine layers of paint underneath the surface. It’s not quite X-ray vision but it’s pretty damn close.

 Previous attempts to use graphene in this way have suffered from the material’s insensitivity towards parts of the light spectrum. The team from Michigan’s breakthrough was to create a sandwich of layers, with an insulating barrier placed between two slices of graphene and an electrical current sent through the bottom part.

When the infrared light hits the top layer of graphene it dislodges electrons as normal (this is, in effect, the signal that gets ‘seen’ by the eye) a process that is then amplified by the electrical current. And hey presto (or some other, more scientific, phrase) you get night vision.

“Our work pioneered a new way to detect light,” said Zhong. “We envision that people will be able to adopt this same mechanism in other material and device platforms.”

Contact lenses seem to be a consistent draw for technologists looking to augment human ability – most likely due to their inconspicuous nature – and previous efforts in this area have included Google’s prototype that monitors blood sugar, and a contact lens that has optical zoom.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

    £100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

    C# Developer

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client is lo...

    SAP FICO CONSULTANT - LONDON

    £55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SENIOR SAP FICO...

    SAP BI/BO CONSULTANT

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BI CONSULTA...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn