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THz Lens a New Tool for Biology

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A new terahertz lens made of plastic and metal has 10 times the resolution of any current metamaterial lens, making it a powerful tool for biological imaging, its creators say.

The lens was created using fiber optic manufacturing technology at the University of Sydney. It operates in the terahertz spectral region, where very few other optical tools are available, and where all of them have limitations, especially in terms of resolution.

"If we think of this in comparison to an x-ray, which allows us to see inside objects at a high resolution but with associated danger from radiation, by contrast our metamaterial lens allows us not only to see through some opaque materials, but also to gather information on their chemical composition and even information on interaction between certain molecules, without the danger of x-rays," said postdoctoral associate Alessandro Tuniz, lead author of a new paper on the research.

Professor Simon Fleming, Dr. Boris Kuhlmey, Alessandro Tuniz and Dr. Alexander Argyros have developed a terahertz-wave metamaterial lens, a powerful tool for biological science. Courtesy of the University of Sydney.

The lens is perfectly suited to analyzing the delivery of drugs to cells, which is crucial to medical research.

"It could allow earlier skin cancer diagnosis because smaller melanomas can be recognized," Tuniz said. "For breast cancer, it can also be used to more accurately check that all traces of a tumor have been cut out during surgery."

The main goal, they said, was not making a better form of an already existing lens, but making a lens that uses lightwaves in a way not previously possible; the lens is 1000 times smaller than early experimental models.

"The major challenge is making these materials on a scale that is useful," said researcher Dr. Boris Kuhlmey. "This is one of the first times a metamaterial with a real-world application, quickly able to be realized, has been feasible. Within the next two to three years, new terahertz microscopes that are ten times more powerful than current ones will be possible using our metamaterial."

Applications could include in vivo terahertz endoscopes with a resolution capable of imaging individual cells, the team said in its paper in Nature Communications (doi:10.1038/ncomms3706).  

"We know of only two or three other cases worldwide, including for wireless Internet and MRI applications, where metamaterials could also be put into practice in the next couple of years," Kuhlmey said.

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Jan 2014
A material engineered from artificial matter not found in nature. The artificial makeup and design of metamaterials give them intrinsic properties not common to conventional materials that are exploited as light waves and sound waves interact with them. One of the most active areas of research involving metamaterials currently explores materials with a negative refractive index. In optics, these negative refractive index materials show promise in the fabrication of lenses that can achieve...
1. In optics, the ability of a lens system to reproduce the points, lines and surfaces in an object as separate entities in the image. 2. The minimum adjustment increment effectively achievable by a positioning mechanism. 3. In image processing, the accuracy with which brightness, spatial parameters and frame rate are divided into discrete levels.
Alessandro TunizAsia-PacificbiologyBiophotonicsBioScanBoris Kuhlmeybreast cancerfiber opticsimaginglensesMaterials & ChemicalsmelanomametamaterialMicroscopyNature CommunicationsopticsResearch & TechnologyresolutionSydneyterahertz

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