News Feature | October 26, 2021

Bright Ideas — Rubin Observatory Telescope Has World's Highest Resolution Camera, Low-Cost Underwater Microscope Could Save Seaweed

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By Abby Proch, Electronics Editor

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A telescope boasting the world’s largest lens and highest resolution digital camera — says the Guinness Book of World Records — is less than two years away from capturing what scientists hope will be the most fantastically detailed images of space yet. In an interview with The Phoblographer, Professor Aaron Roodman with SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory said the Rubin Observatory telescope, located in Chile, will proceed with a 10-year plan to collect images of space beginning in 2023.

The telescope’s camera has three huge lenses, the largest measuring 1.57 meters, and delivers a 3.2 gigapixel focal plane. The camera also uses an array of 189 charge-coupled device (CCD) image sensor for a total resolution of 3.2 billion pixels. Roodman says the telescope’s unparalleled optical components and position in the Southern Hemisphere will allow it to capture images of deep space in wide swaths instead of tiny instances. “The idea is you’re looking deep into the heavens,” he said.

As for onboard imaging in space, bigger is definitely not better. Producing high-performance, lightweight, and unobtrusive glass mirrors and lenses for space telescopes can be challenging to say the least. So, a group of scientists are experimenting with a lightweight flexible holographic “lens” made of plastic, according to EurekAlert.

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are developing what they say is a “refined version” of a Fresnel lens, which uses concentric rings of prisms arrayed in a flat plane to mimic the focus of a curved lens. The lens will not only focus light onto a single point like traditional methods but also disperse it into its constituent colors. In practice, the meters-long plastic “lens,” or optical element, would be rolled up, deployed, and then unfurled in space where it would be used to distinctly identify an exoplanet. Until now, exoplanets have only been identified by “their effect on light coming from the star they orbit.”

In business news, Ouster, a provider of high-resolution digital LiDAR sensors, has acquired Sense Photonics and established Ouster Automotive, according to Business Wire. With this acquisition and the growth of its automotive division, Ouster plans to accelerate its solid-state digital LiDAR production, deliver on its deal with a “major global" original equipment manufacturer (OEM), negotiate with other automotive OEMs for programming worth upwards of $1 billion, and build upon Sense’s portfolio. Sense CEO Shauna McIntyre will become the president of Ouster Automotive and most of Sense’s 80 global employees will accompany her in the move.

Another acquisition announced this past week involved Jenoptik obtaining Berliner Glas Medical and SwissOptic. The move is said to strengthen the company’s global photonics presence, as well as bolster its longstanding semiconductor equipment business, according to a press release. Berliner Glas Medical’s portfolio includes products in dentistry (such as intraoral scanners) and robotic surgery. SwissOptic offers expertise and a portfolio composed of ophthalmic and life sciences technology.

In research news, the University of Arkansas will use $4.4 million of U.S. Office of Naval Research funding to develop an infrared imaging sensor array made of silicon germanium tin. According to a university press release, the researchers’ goal is to prototype a less expensive, high performing infrared camera for military use. One of the members, professor Shui-Qing “Fisher” Yu, has been part of two teams that created a first-generation optically pump laser and first reported “electrical excited” germanium tin laser.

In medical developments, imec and its collaborative spinoff miDiagnostics (working with Johns Hopkins University) are partnering to commercialize a COVID-19 breathalyzer. The handheld sampling instrument can detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus in exhaled air as opposed to blood, saliva, or mucus from the nose and throat, and pairs with imec’s ultra-fast PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technology, according to an imec press release. The breathalyzer will debut in November at Brussels Airport. miDiagnostics creates point-of-care tests to screen, diagnose, and monitor many medical conditions, and imec is already exploring how the tech can help detect other airborne diseases or even cancer (for which it’s soliciting industry input).

And finally, using a submersible digital holographic microscope and an accompanying neural network, an MIT mechanical engineering graduate student is monitoring seaweed health in hopes preserving its future amidst climate change, according to a university press release. With funding from Mathworks (known for creating MATLAB), Charlene Xia used a digital holographic microscope to take 2D images of seaweed, and then a neural network presented the 2D image in a 3D environment. She then began developing a low-cost communication device (around $100 instead of the typical $4,000) to communicate data from the seaweed farms, whose health can decline in as little as a day, to a research team. Once made scalable, the system could be deployed across a commercial seaweed farm to alert of any microbiome changes and environmental impacts.