Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, June 11, 2009

I can see! - Record-breaking superlens smashes diffraction limit

Technology Review - June 11, 2009

The world's highest resolution lens opens the door to real-time movies of molecules in action.

It must be 10 years since John Pendry at Imperial College London dreamt up the idea of superlenses. Until then physicists had thought that the resolution of all lenses was limited by a phenomenon called the diffraction limit which holds that you can't see anything smaller than about half the wavelength of the illuminating light.

That's true if you look at the propagating component of light waves. But light also records smaller subwavelength details in its evanescent components which do not propagate. At least not usually. What Pendry showed was that evanescent components can propagate in a material with a negative refractive index and pointed out that a thin film of silver ought to have just the right properties.

Since then the race has been on to build superlenses. In 2005, Nicolas Fang at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign created one that could record details as small as 1/6th of a wavelength. That's was a significant improvement over the diffraction limit but why not better?

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