A team of researchers has created an artificial lens made up of thousands of nanoscale polymer layers that is nearly identical to the natural lens of the human eye.
The lens may one day replace damaged or diseased human eye lenses, as well as find a home in consumer products.
The work, which was undertaken at the Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH, USA), Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Terre Haute, IN, USA), US Naval Research Laboratory (Washington, DC, USA) and PolymerPlus (Valley View, OH, USA) was recently described in the Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal Optics Express.
The fundamental technology behind the new lens is called "GRIN" or gradient refractive index optics. In GRIN, light gets refracted, by varying degrees as it passes through a transparent material.
"The human eye is a GRIN lens," says Michael Ponting, polymer scientist and president of PolymerPlus, an Ohio-based Case Western Reserve spinoff launched in 2010. "As light passes from the front of the human eye lens to the back, light rays are refracted by varying degrees. It’s a very efficient means of controlling the pathway of light without relying on complicated optics, and one that we attempted to mimic."
The research team's new lens comprises thousands of nanoscale layers each with slightly different optical properties, to produce a material with a gradually varying its refractive index.
To make the layers for the lens, the team used a multilayer-film coextrusion technique (a common method used to produce multilayer structures).
The technology has already moved from the research labs of Case Western Reserve to PolymerPlus for commercialization.
A paper: "A Bio-Inspired Polymeric Gradient Refractive Index Human Eye Lens," which was published in Optics Express is available here.
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-- Dave Wilson, Senior Editor, Vision Systems Design