Smallest 3D Printed Lens3D printing keeps on making history over and over.

This time the technology has led to the debut of the world’s smallest lens.

And yes – I’m talking about a grain of salt kind of small.

German scientists have just recently created what is now considered the world’s tiniest lens using 3D printing. The lens is merely twice the width of the human hair.

Due to its minute size, word has it that it could result in the creation of cameras that would also be no more than a grain of salt in size. Of course this would automatically revolutionize the fields of Surgery, undercover surveillance and Robotics or Drone Technology.

Dr Timo Gissibl from Stuttgart University in Germany and his colleagues explained in detail how they made this game changing lens through a paper published in Nature Photonics on the 27th of June, 2016.

Apparently, these German researchers were able to create a triplet device by innovatively combining three of the tiny lenses into a “pinhead” device. They went on to explain that the pinhead device is able to produce razor sharp pictures, is small enough to fit into an ordinary syringe needle and can even be 3D printed to the end of an optical fibre.

Besides optical fibres, the lens can also be directly 3D printed onto image sensors like the ones used in digital cameras or the tip of an endoscope – which is a special kind of camera used for examining Internal Body Organs. The technology could additionally prove crucial in creating security monitors and mini-robots with “autonomous vision” that could be virtually invisible to the human eye.

Together with his team, Dr Gissibl came up with a device that emits short pulses of light which they specifically used to harden any material onto which the 3D multi-lens systems could be printed. One of their tests showed that objects which were placed 3 mm from the lens were reproduced successfully at the other end of the 5.6 foot (1.7 metre) long tube they were using.

Considering that the lens is thin enough to fit inside the needle of a syringe, the team is confident that this will allow for delivery to the Human Brain or any organ for that matter; whenever such a need arises. Essentially, their view is that this tiny 3D printed lens will lead to the reinvention of medical cameras used for internal examinations.

No More Manufacturing Limitations

Dr Gissibl and his colleagues wrote:

“Current lens systems are restricted in size, shape and dimensions by limitations of manufacturing. Multi-lens elements with non-spherical shapes are required for high optical performance and to correct for aberrations when imaging at wide angles and large fields. Here, we present a novel concept in Optics that opens new field of 3D printed micro- and nano-optics with complex lens designs.”

The team views their 3D printing method as a representation of “a paradigm shift”. They further wrote:

“Endoscopic applications will allow for non-invasive and non-destructive examination of small objects in the medical as well as the industrial sector.”

It’s no doubt that this incredibly tiny 3D printed lens will play an important role in many other applications. Dr Gissibl had this to say about the endless possibilities that the lens may pave way to:

“The unprecedented flexibility of our method paves the way towards printed optical miniature instruments such as endoscopes, fibre-imaging systems for cell biology, new illumination systems, miniature optical fibre traps, integrated quantum emitters and detectors, and miniature drones and robots with autonomous vision.”

So there you have it. Soon enough there will be cameras that are the size of a Grain of Salt thanks to the 3D printing technology. One thing is for sure, these lenses will completely transform health imaging and surveillance as we know it today.

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