Scientists, including an Oregon State University College of Science materials researcher, have developed a better tool to measure light, contributing to a field known as optical spectrometry in a way that could improve everything from smartphone cameras to environmental monitoring.
The study, published today in Science, was led by Finland’s Aalto University and resulted in a powerful, ultra-tiny spectrometer that fits on a microchip and is operated using artificial intelligence.
The research involved a comparatively new class of super-thin materials known as two-dimensional semiconductors, and the upshot is a proof of concept for a spectrometer that could be readily incorporated into a variety of technologies – including quality inspection platforms, security sensors, biomedical analyzers and space telescopes.
“We’ve demonstrated a way of building spectrometers that are far more miniature than what is typically used today,” said Ethan Minot, a professor of physics in the OSU College of Science. “Spectrometers measure the strength of light at different wavelengths and are super useful in lots of industries and all fields of science for identifying samples and characterizing materials.”
Traditional spectrometers require bulky optical and mechanical components, whereas the new device could fit on the end of a human hair, Minot said. The new research suggests those components can be replaced with novel semiconductor materials and AI, allowing spectrometers to be dramatically scaled down in size from the current smallest ones, which are about the size of a grape.
“Our spectrometer does not require assembling separate optical and mechanical components or array designs to disperse and filter light,” said Hoon Hahn Yoon, who led the study with Aalto University colleague Zhipei Sun Yoon. “Moreover, it can achieve a high resolution comparable to benchtop systems but in a much smaller package.”
The device is 100% electrically controllable regarding the colors of light it absorbs, which gives it massive potential for scalability and widespread usability, the researchers say.
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