Researchers at Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (Seas) have created what they believe is a breakthrough in the world of optics – nanomaterial “metalenses” that could replace the glass currently used.

Metalenses are made up of “nanopillars” of titanium dioxide that are smaller than a hair-width in size, which when organised into specific patterns can reflect light to towards a focal point much like in regular lenses.

Metalens nanopillars  (Harvard SEAS)
Metalens nanopillars (Harvard SEAS)


The benefit of using metalenses to do this is that it’s significantly thinner than the glass used in camera lenses currently, meaning that if the technology is found to be viable it could be used to help make cameras, smartphones and even eye glasses far less bulky and much thinner.

The initial metalenses created by Seas only worked in black and white, however a new material has now been unveiled that enables the lenses to work in a spectrum of colours.

The nanopillars of titanium dioxide in a metalens
The nanopillars of titanium dioxide in a metalens (Harvard SEAS)


It’s still some way off the spectrum needed to work in cameras, but progress so far has been enough for the breakthrough to be named among Science Magazine’s top discoveries of 2016.

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