Weighing in at just 1 microgram, graphene’s latest application as an optical lens is a huge game changer in a very small package. 300 times thinner than a single sheet of paper, an all new graphene lens has been developed by the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia this month. This tiny lens could lead to a huge technological breakthrough, in the form of optical computers capable of processing data at the speed of light.
Essentially, an optical computer uses photons in light beams, rather than electric current, to perform digital computations. Information is stored in the form of photons on photonic chips, allowing data to be transferred at the speed of light. While NASA is already developing a light-based modem, one of the major roadblocks in the development of more mainstream optical computers has been the need for a super thin lens to split beams of light and divert them around the photonic chips.
The science community is cheering as graphene has once again risen to the challenge, this time in the form of a super thin, strong yet flexible lens that diverts light beams while keeping the chips intact. Capable of splitting a single beam of photons, these new graphene lenses will be much more cost efficient and perform better than previous substances that scientists have experimented with, including gold.
The team at Swinburne University found success in 3D printing a thin layer of sprayable graphene oxide. The lens is able to precisely zoom in on elements just 200 nanometers in size. So in addition to powering optical computers, this new application for graphene could be a huge game changer in a wide array of industries.
Smartphones could become smaller and lighter thanks to camera lenses made with graphene. Medical treatments could also get a huge boost from the ability to study bacteria on a more in-depth level than ever before, thanks to microscopes fitted with graphene lenses. The Swinburne team is currently working on developing a graphene and fibre endoscope that would be smaller and more sophisticated than those on the market today.
On top of all that, graphene lenses could also improve nanosatellites—a growing field of tiny satellites that are as strong as Sputnik, but exponentially smaller and able to transmit data more swiftly. Graphene will make these nanosatellites lighter in weight and better able to focus on Earth.
From our smartphones to outer space, there’s hardly an area of our modern lives that graphene can’t improve upon. Despite its small stature, this breakthrough graphene oxide lens has the potential to change our world in major ways.