It’s not exactly x-ray vision, but it’s close. In research published in the journal Optical, University of California, Irvine researchers describe a new type of camera technology that, when pointed at an object, can quickly retrieve 3D images, displaying its chemical content down to the micrometer scale. The new technology promises to help companies inspect things like the inside of computer chips without having to open them – a breakthrough that researchers say could speed up production times for these products by more than a hundred times.
âThis is an article on a way to visualize things in 3D very quickly, even at the pace of video,â said Dmitry Fishman – director of laser spectroscopy laboratories in the Department of Chemistry at UCI – who , with Eric Potma, professor of chemistry, directed the work. The new imaging technology is based on a so-called non-linear optical effect in silicon, a semiconductor material used in cameras and visible light detectors.
With such a nonlinear optical effect, conventional silicon detectors can detect light coming from the mid infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. The reason is, Fishman explained, that the mid-infrared spectral region contains important information about the chemical composition of the material. âMost of the vibrations and molecular signatures are in the mid-infrared range,â he said.
Other technologies, he explained, are slow to retrieve images because laser light has to sweep over the object – a process that takes longer. A nonlinear optical “trick” with short laser pulses allowed us to capture a deeply resolved image on a camera in a single take, providing an alternative method to what others do – and the breakthrough is that it’s not only faster, but also produces 3D images with chemical contrast, âFishman said.
And imaging technology isn’t just for computer chips. Potma explained that the system can also image things like the ceramics used to craft things like heat shield plates on space shuttles and reveal clues to structural weaknesses that might be there.
The research follows work by Potma and Fishman and a team of researchers published last year in Nature’s Light: Science & Applications which outlines the first steps towards creating effective mid-infrared sensing technology to using standard silicon-based cameras. . Back then, the technology was just starting to take shape, but now, Fishman explained, it’s about to be ready for the mainstream. âThis time we made it a lot more efficient and better,â he said.
Funding for the work came from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. The work was carried out in collaboration between UCI scientists and Yong Chen, professor in the Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Southern California.
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