Scientists Develop a Cheap Way for Any Camera to See Infrared Colors

Scientists from Tel Aviv University (TAU) have developed a camera system that can recognize the colors of the infrared spectrum that doesn’t require the converting to the visible spectrum after the fact, a normally costly and time-consuming process.

The scientists say the technology makes it possible for them to image gases and substances like hydrogen, carbon, and sodium as well as biological compounds found in nature that are usually invisible to the human eye and most camera sensors.

The research was conducted by Dr. Michael Mrejen, Yoni Erlich, Dr. Assaf Levanon, and Prof. Haim Suchowski of TAU’s Department of Physics of Condensed Material.

The human eye, and most cameras, pick up photos of light in wavelengths between 400 nanometers and 700 nanometers, between wavelengths of blue and red. This is just a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, and below 400 nanometers is ultraviolet radiation and above 700 is infrared.

As explained on Phys, the colors in these parts of the spectrum are of great importance as many materials have a unique signature expressed as a color, especially those in the mid-infrared range. They point to cancer cells in particular, as they are more easily detected since they have a higher concentration of molecules of a particular type that show in infrared.

“In each of these parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, there is a great deal of information on materials encoded as ‘colors’ that has until now been hidden from view,” Dr. Mrejen says.

the visible spectrum

“We humans can see between red and blue. If we could see in the infrared realm, we would see that elements like hydrogen, carbon and sodium have a unique color,” Prof. Suchowski says. “So an environmental monitoring satellite could ‘see’ a pollutant being emitted from a plant, or a spy satellite would see where explosives or uranium are being hidden. In addition, since every object emits heat in the infrared, all this information could be seen even at night.”

Infrared detection already exists, but what makes this research particularly exciting is that it makes seeing the “colors” of the spectrum visible far more affordably than before. For example, in medical imaging, experiments have been performed that take infrared images which are converted to visible light to identify cancer cells, but the conversion required extremely sophisticated and expensive cameras which were just not feasible or accessible for general use.

But what the researchers from TAU have accomplished is a cheaper and more efficient technology that can mount on a standard consumer camera and allows the conversion from the entire mid-infrared region to be made visible at frequencies that the human eye can perceive.

The research report has been published on Wiley and the team has already applied for a patent on the technology. They hope to produce it for widespread use and multiple companies have already expressed interest in working on the project.


Picture credits: Photos licensed via Depositphotos.

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