Engineers at Ohio State University have invented a single lens that can create microscopic 3D images by itself.
Associate professor Allen Yi and his team used a commercially available milling tool with a diamond blade to cut the shape from a piece of the common transparent plastic polymethyl methacrylate, also known as acrylic glass.
The final result resembled a rhinestone, with a faceted top and a wide, flat bottom.
The engineers installed the lens on a microscope with a camera looking down through the faceted side at tiny objects beneath. Each facet captures an image from a different angle, and these can be combined on a computer to create a 3D image.
"Using our lens is basically like putting several microscopes into one microscope," says postdoctoral researcher Lei Li. "For us, the most attractive part of this project is we will be able to see the real shape of micro-samples instead of just a two-dimensional projection."
Yi says that the new lens can be used with existing microscopes. It can also The team has other ideas for the tiny lens, which they say could simplify the design of future machine vision equipment, since multiple lenses or moving cameras would no longer be necessary.
Yi and Li have also produced a grid-shaped array of lenses designed to fit an optical sensor, and another is made up of more than 1,000 tiny lenses, similar in appearance to an insect's eye.