If you were a big fan of Superman or Cyclops growing up, boy do we have some exciting news for you.
The University of St. Andrews in Scotland announced in a press release that researchers there have developed an ultra-thin membrane laser that can be attached to a contact lens and emits very low-powered laser light when illuminated by another laser.
While it has not yet been tested on humans, scientists tested the membrane on cows, and researchers said it meets weight and thickness limits that would likely make it safe for people’s eyes. However, they designed these “ocular lasers” for multiple purposes.
“As an example, we show how membrane lasers that were designed to produce a well-defined and unique lasing spectrum can be used as counterfeit-resilient, barcode-type security labels on bank notes,” the scientists wrote in their study, at Nature Communications. “In another example, a laser beam was emitted from a bovine eye onto which a contact lens with a membrane laser had been mounted. Due to the low threshold of our membrane laser, a similar configuration is expected to be safe to use in the human eye …”
So sorry, but you won’t be saving the world Superman-style any time soon:
“Our work represents a new milestone in laser development and, in particular, points the way to how lasers can be used in inherently soft and ductile environments, be it in wearable sensors or as an authentication feature on bank notes,” Professor Malte Gather of the university’s school of physics and astronomy said in a statement.
So while you won’t be using this technology to fight off aliens or villains, the university said that this technology had many possible applications in security, including a flexible, wearable digital barcode.
“By varying the materials and adjusting the grating structures of the laser, the emission can be designed to show a specific series of sharp lines on a flat background – the ones and zeros of a digital barcode,” Markus Karl, who worked on the new lasers as part of his Ph.D. research, said in the statement.
This could be big news for other technologies that would require putting lightweight technology on contact lenses. Mental Floss reports that New York-based company RaayonNova is developing lenses that would help people with visual impairment by magnifying signs, or giving the wearer a warning if they are in a dangerous situation. Mental Floss also writes that, “Phone companies Samsung and Google are also reportedly among the big companies racing to develop this technology.”
It’s unclear what, specifically, they’ll use it for, but the possibilities seem endless — especially considering that a laser could be applied to a fingernail:
In the meantime, a friendly reminder: Lasers, and specifically laser pointers, are very dangerous to point at anyone’s eyes. We’ll leave this new technology to the scientists who are still developing it for now!