The team, led by Professor David Cumming and Dr Tim Drysdale from the University's department of electronics and electrical engineering, will take advantage of a phenomenon called plasmon resonance in their efforts to create a microchip for cameras and other imaging equipment that will produce sharper, more colourful images.
The project is being funded through a grant from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council and is supported by Sharp Laboratories Europe and Oxford University.
Plasmon resonance refers to an interaction produced when light waves fall on a metal surface, or in this case, the thin metal film used on microchip image sensors (CMOS - complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) in digital cameras which detect light waves and covert them into digital signals.
When light shines on the metal film, electrons on the surface absorb the energy of the light waves and begin oscillating, or shaking, in groups. The resultant combined waves are called plasmons and they modify the light distribution around the metal. The CMOS then measures the light and assigns it a digital value which is then used to build up the bigger picture.
To take advantage of this process, the team intends to work with the Sharp and Oxford University to create small nanostructures or patterns in the metal film on the CMOS. This in turn will increase the sensitivity of the sensor and result in higher-quality images.
The structures will also enable the plasmon resonators to be ‘tuned' into the same frequency as various colours of light, thereby improving colour discrimination in images. This could offer a cheaper way of filtering different colours of light, reducing the current number of processes currently used to distinguish between different colours.
The technology could also be applied to spectrometers - devices for measuring the wavelengths in light - which are generally used for identifying materials by picking out different light signatures.
Prof. Cumming said: "Digital imaging has come a long way in recent years and this project aims to further improve the ability of digital devices to produce high-quality pictures. This technology has a wide range of potential applications, for example cameras, televisions, spectrometers and medical sensors.
"We'll be using the extensive nanotechnology expertise at the University to manipulate particles on the nanoscale. It involves taking advantage of the properties of electrons to create a whole new optical effect."
The team is currently recruiting two research assistants - a PhD student and a post-doctoral researcher - for the project which is expected to last for three-and-a-half years.
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