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Computing power boosts ultrathin cameras

Metacamera
University of Washington rigged up an experimental setup to capture an image of flowers through a metalens (mounted on a microscope slide) and visualize it through a microscope. (UW Clean Energy Institute Photo / Matt Hagen)

Imagine a camera that captures pictures on a flat surface, without any need for a glass lens.

Such cameras already exist, thanks to exotic materials known as metasurfaces. They’re not yet ready for prime time, but a new approach that relies on heavy-duty computational processing could soon get them there.

University of Washington researchers show how it could be done in a paper published last week by the journal Science Advances. If the technique can be commercialized, it could turn metasurface-based lenses, or metalenses, into the next big thing in ultrathin cameras and microscopes.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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