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August 14, 2006 – Last week, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced the development of the first autonomous micro liquid lens, according to the university’s website. The "smart liquid lens," as it is called, can detect chemicals in other liquid-based environments, without external control.
After three years in the making, University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists have produced a prototype water and oil-based liquid lens, containing hundreds of microns that measure a millimeter each. The cylindrical model contains a thin polymer that acts as an aperture with a focus length of negative infinity to plus infinity which can be changed by squeezing and releasing the liquid, according to head scientist Hongrui Jiang, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The smart lens contains thick gel-like hydrogel polymers which act as the sensing agents. The hydrogels, in a fraction of a second, respond to stimuli such as light, temperature, PH, or electricity, according to the university’s website.
Liquid lenses are not a new invention, already having been used in cameras phones such as French-based Varioptic lens products. However, unlike other liquid lenses, the new smart liquid lens does not require external control.
"The ability to respond in autonomous fashion to the local environment is new and unique," said professor of biomedical engineering David Beebe, in a news release.
The lens is cheap and easy to make, according to Jiang. Each lens costs about a penny to make, he said.
Partially funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s National Center for Food Protection and Defense, the smart liquid lens could have broad applications for biological and chemical analysis in liquid environments.
Because of its flexible and adaptive properties, the smart lens could monitor the quality of water supply areas.
Geared for image bio-medical diagnosis, the smart lens could also be used in hospitals as well as research development, according to Jiang. As far as further plans for the smart liquid lens, Jiang hopes to improve the lens’ reliability with packaging improvements to prevent leakage and hopes to see the lens become even smaller and faster.
All images courtesy of Hongrui Jiang and Liang Dong of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.