Groundbreaking Graphene Sensors Could Let Your Camera See in the Dark
Scientists find yet another game-changing way to use the super-thin miracle material.
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Snapping a good photo in bad lighting is literally taking a shot in the dark, but a cutting-edge design could make that problem a thing of the past.
Scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have created a new imaging sensor that they claim is 1,000 times more sensitive than the sensors in today's cameras. The secret? It's made from graphene, the miracle material that's supposed to revolutionize everything from batteries to vodka.
Cameras get marginally better at low-light photography every year. Small advances in design and manufacturing techniques help squeeze cleaner performance out of today's conventional sensors, which are made from silicon. But the graphene sensor is a radical departure from the current designs. The base material is completely different—graphene is a microscopically thin sheet of carbon, just a single atom thick—and has a unique set of properties that allows it to capture light far more efficiently than silicon does. In practical terms, graphene sensors would make it much easier to get sharp, noise-free photos in low-light environments than today's cameras do.
The graphene sensor is still in development, and it'll be at least a few years before the first models land in the real world—a sensor is just one part of a complex optical system. When the design is ready, the first graphene sensors will likely appear in satellites and surveillance cameras before finding their way into consumer products, like smartphones and compact cameras.
Manufacturers should be able to incorporate the graphene sensor design into their existing production processes. "This means the industry can in principle continue producing camera sensors using the CMOS process, which is the prevailing technology used by the majority of factories in the electronics industry," said assistant professor Qi Jie Wang, inventor of the graphene sensor. He also said it's expected to be five times cheaper than today's silicon CMOS sensors, and will consume as little as one-tenth the amount of energy. That sounds brilliant.