Liquid Crystal Metalens Enables Electric Zoom

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ITHACA, N.Y., June 24, 2021 — A metalens developed by researchers from Cornell University and Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology can be focused using voltage rather than by mechanically moving its components. The lens, a proof of concept, is the first of its kind, the researchers reported, and opens possibilities to compact varifocal lenses. Those lenses could be used in imaging applications that include satellites, telescopes, and microscopes.

Researchers merged a metalens with liquid crystals to tailor the metalens’s local phase response. This allowed the researchers to vary the focus of the metalens in a controlled way by varying the voltage applied across the device.
Conceptual rendering of an ultrathin, electrically tunable metalens developed by Cornell and Samsung engineers. Courtesy of Daniil Shilkin.
Conceptual rendering of an ultrathin, electrically tunable metalens developed by Cornell and Samsung engineers. Courtesy of Daniil Shilkin.

The combination, said Melissa Bosch, first author and a doctoral student in the lab of Gennady Shvets, professor of applied and engineering physics and senior author of the paper, yielded an ultrathin, electrically tunable lens that was capable of continuous zoom. It also demonstrated up to 20% total focal length shift, she said.

Samsung researchers plan to develop the technology for use in augmented reality glasses, Bosch said. She said there are many other possible applications for the technology: replacing optical lenses in satellites, spacecraft, drones, night-vision goggles, endoscopes, and other contexts where space and weight are priorities.

Maxim Shcherbakov, a postdoctoral associate in the Shvets lab and corresponding author of the paper, said researchers have made progress in marrying liquid crystals to nanostructures for the past decade. Nobody, however, had applied this to lenses, he said.

“For instance,” Shcherbakov said, “this lens works at a single wavelength, red, but it will be much more useful when it can work across the color spectrum — red, green, blue.”

The Cornell group is working toward a multiwavelength varifocal version of the metalens using the existing platform as a starting point.

“The optimization procedure for other wavelengths is very similar to that of red. In some ways, the hardest step is already finished, so no, it is simply a matter of building on the work already done,” Bosch said.

The work was supported by the Global Research Outreach program of the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology and by the Cornell Center for Materials Research with funding from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

The research was published in Nano Letters (

Published: June 2021
A metalens, short for "metasurface lens," is a type of optical lens that uses nanostructured materials to manipulate light at a subwavelength scale. Unlike traditional lenses made of glass or other transparent materials, metalenses do not rely on the curvature of their surface to refract or focus light. Instead, they use carefully engineered patterns of nanostructures, such as nanoscale antennas or dielectric structures, to control the phase and amplitude of light across the lens's surface....
1. The focal point. 2. To adjust the eyepiece or objective of a telescope so that the image is clearly seen by the observer. 3. To adjust the camera lens, plate, or film holder so that the image is rendered distinct. 4. To move an entire microscope body tube relative to a specimen to obtain the sharpest possible image.
liquid crystal
Liquid crystals are a state of matter that exhibits properties intermediate between those of conventional liquids and solid crystals. In a liquid crystal, the molecules are ordered like those in a crystal, but they can still flow like a liquid. This unique combination of structural order and fluidity gives liquid crystals their distinctive characteristics and makes them valuable in various technological applications, particularly in display technology. Key features and characteristics of...
To control, by magnifying or reducing, the size of a televised image, either electronically or optically.
zoom lens
An optical system of variable focal length, the focal plane remaining in a fixed position. This result is achieved by moving some of the components of the system along the lens axis, other components remaining stationary.
Research & TechnologyOpticslensesmetalensfocusvariable focusliquid crystalliquid crystalstunablezoomzoom lensCornell UniversitySamsungSamsung Advanced Institute of TechnologyAmericas

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