Apply a little ultraviolet light and heat, and a gumdrop of polymer transforms itself into an artificial bug eye, biophysicists report. The advance could lead to small, inexpensive wide-angle cameras for surveillance, biomedical imaging, and other applications.
Optically speaking, it’s hard to take a broad view of things. To produce lenses with fields of view wider than 90°, lens makers must combine several individual lenses in an elaborate “fish eye” structure that is expensive and hard to miniaturize. Alternatively, they might try to capture a panoramic view by assembling many smaller “microlenses” pointing in different directions, like the elements in an insect’s compound eye. Researchers have developed microlens arrays on light-sensitive microchips. But those devices have been flat, which limits their field of view. And researchers must align the optics with the light-detecting pixels on the chip.