Industryweek 3163 Laserguns

Clear as ... Paper? Scientists 'See' through Solid Layers

Nov. 7, 2012
With improvements, "20 years in the future I think we might have a device the size of an iPhone that you could hold on the scattering material [the non-see-through layer] and you push a button or maybe speak a command ... and you'd be seeing what's behind it," said study co-author Allard Mosk of the Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

Scientists said they have developed a method to "see through" layers of thin, solid material in a breakthrough that holds promise for medical imaging, nanotechnology -- and the spy trade.

A team of scientists from the Netherlands and Italy have developed a new technique using lasers and computer decoding to "see" an object behind a non-see-through barrier made of ground glass.

Using the same technology, they would also be able to look behind a sheet of paper or a thin layer of paint, said study co-author Allard Mosk of the Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

With improvements, "20 years in the future I think we might have a device the size of an iPhone that you could hold on the scattering material [the non-see-through layer] and you push a button or maybe speak a command ... and you'd be seeing what's behind it," the physicist told AFP.

Some objects, like paper, skin or frosted glass, let through limited light, but diffuse it so much that the human eye cannot see beyond them -- like trying to see through fog.

The new method works by shining a laser on the barrier, in this case a translucent screen of ground glass made by an optics company. The disk does not allow any light to pass through in a straight line but scatters it all.

The diffused light that makes it through the glass then hits an object behind the screen, which returns some of that light onto the backside of the screen, the team wrote in the journal Nature.

This light, by now completely scrambled and so low that it can no longer be seen by the naked eye, is then analysed by a computer decoding programme that reproduces an image of the hidden object, Mosk said.

"We don't see the object itself, we don't see its shape, but thanks to our scanning method all we really need to know is the amount of light," he explained.

Decoding the light pattern "is like a huge puzzle and fortunately it's a puzzle of the type that computers are very good at."

Potential Applications

Mosk said the technology could be useful for non-invasive scanning in medicine and in the field of nanotechnology -- seeing inside a computer chip without having to open it.

"In principle, you could read a letter though an envelope, which might be good if you are a spy."

Existing technologies allow scientists to see through materials that partly, not entirely, scatter light. And unlike the new technique, today's methods work by using the non-scattered portion of light.

But don't expect X-ray specs anytime soon, as the new laser technique could never work on black, entirely light-absorbing surfaces, said Mosk, quipping that "a wall would be quite a challenge".

Nor would it be useful to the pursuits of Peeping Toms.

"Our method is pretty good at looking through things, but before all kinds of peepers try and call us: it is not good for looking through something sneakily -- you would notice if someone points a very bright laser at you," the scientist said.

-- Mariette Le Roux, AFP

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012

Popular Sponsored Recommendations

Empowering the Modern Workforce: The Power of Connected Worker Technologies

March 1, 2024
Explore real-world strategies to boost worker safety, collaboration, training, and productivity in manufacturing. Emphasizing Industry 4.0, we'll discuss digitalization and automation...

Transformative Capabilities for XaaS Models in Manufacturing

Feb. 14, 2024
The manufacturing sector is undergoing a pivotal shift toward "servitization," or enhancing product offerings with services and embracing a subscription model. This transition...

Shifting Your Business from Products to Service-Based Business Models: Generating Predictable Revenues

Oct. 27, 2023
Executive summary on a recent IndustryWeek-hosted webinar sponsored by SAP

Building on Resilience

March 24, 2024
Splunk surveyed leaders across the manufacturing industry and 44% of them reported weekly critical outages due to security incidents. And over half of them said that they don’...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!