Skip to main content

Discover the technology that can grant you superhuman night vision

Graphene is a wonder material, capable of superheroic feats; it only takes a sliver of it, a sheet as thin as cling film, to sustain the weight of a fully grown elephant. If you’re thinking this belongs to a whacky comic book plot, think again: graphene is a real, newly discovered material, with the potential to revolutionise the way the world works.

Researchers maintain that its discovery will lead to groundbreaking gadgets, which will make iPhones and Kindles look like pre-1950 toys. Its possibilities span many different areas, including optical technology: scientists in the UK have recently repurposed graphene to invent night vision contact lenses, which provide superhuman eyesight, as reported by the Independent.

Graphene

Night vision devices are based on infra-red technology, which creates electronic images by capturing heat radiations, imperceptible to the human eye. In the dark of the night, when our eyes cannot perceive light, heat is the only thing that can help us build clear, defined images.

Although infra-red devices are currently available on the market, their use requires bulky cooling equipment, to prevent the electrical components of night vision goggles from interfering with external heat sources. Graphene based models can do the same job, only better. They cover the full infrared spectrum, including visible and ultraviolet light, but take up much less space than current night vision devices, as graphene is over one million times thinner than paper.

The man behind the science is Zhaohui Zhong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan; he asserts that scientists can develop a super-thin device, and integrate it with contact lenses or cell phones, providing perfect vision at all times of the day and night.

As well as gifting humans with the vision of superheroes, or favouring nighttime jaunts, infrared-capturing graphene lenses could also save lives. Working in a similar way to X-ray vision, the technology could help doctors monitor blood flow without subjecting patients to scans, or allow the military to complete reconnaissance missions in the dead of night.

Our resident Optician, Kayleigh Dunn, gives her professional opinion on this breakthrough in the optical world:

“The development of infrared contact lenses will create fantastic opportunities for advancement in a variety of fields, from the medical to the military sector. However, due to the complexity of this technology, they will be a high-cost item, not readily available on the high-street for quite some time. From a clinical viewpoint, I would be interested in seeing what results the clinical trials will deliver, in terms of oxygen transmission and suitability of wear.”

Soldiers seen via night vision

Ten interesting facts about graphene

Extraordinary in strength and light in weight, graphene definitely is a wonder material. Here are a few amazing facts about it:

  1. Graphene is as thick as an atom, and one million times thinner than paper.
  2. Even though it’s one of the thinnest materials in the world, graphene is still visible to the human eye.
  3. Graphene is two hundred times stronger than steel, but six times lighter.
  4. It’s also the most impermeable material ever discovered.
  5. Graphene is extremely transparent, absorbing only 2.3% of the light that strikes it. This makes it the ideal material for night vision devices.
  6. Graphene is incredibly flexible: if stretched, its length can increase by up to 25%.
  7. Graphene is made of the same carbon structure as graphite – the material you find in your pencils.
  8. Graphene can carry electricity more efficiently, faster, and with more precision than any other material.
  9. Scientists have invented a graphene supercapacitor, which can charge an iPhone to full capacity in just five seconds.
  10. At the current rate, the amount of graphene required to cover the head of a pin costs upwards of £800.