Imaging technologies as depicted in science fiction movies like Star Wars are a step closer to reality with a new invention by scientists from The Australian National University (ANU).The miniscule device creates holographic images with a higher quality than has ever been achieved.

Lei Wang, the lead researcher on the project and his team produced intricate holographic images in infrared with the invention. They hope to develop the device further with industry partners. Wang, a PhD student at the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering, reminisced about how he discovered the concept of holographic imaging from the Star Wars movies as a child. He finds it cool that he now has the opportunity to work on a device that employs the principles of holography that were depicted in those movies.

Holograms work on the principle of manipulating light. This complex operation permits the storing and then the reproduction of all info carried by light in 3D. Computer monitors and standard photographs are only able to capture and display a part of 2D information.

Wang noted that although the research in holography is often focused on the development of augmented reality devices and futuristic displays, his team is currently working on many other applications such as lightweight and optical devices for satellites and cameras.

The new device could potentially replace bigger components, which will in turn enable cameras to be miniaturized. As this would reduce the weight and size of optical systems on spacecraft, it would save costs in astronomical missions.

Dr Sergey Kruk from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering and the co-lead researcher explained that the device consisted of many tiny silicon pillars, each nearly 500 times thinner than a human hair. As the material is transparent, it loses negligible energy from the light, yet is able to do complex manipulations with light.

Being able to structure materials at the nanoscale enables the device to attain new optical properties that go past the properties exhibited by natural materials. The holograms that the device was able to produce highlight the potential of the technology to be applied in a wide range of applications.