Results of the research could lead to smartphones rivaling the photo quality of digital cameras and imagery that allows surgeons to view inside the human body like never before, the Columbus, Ohio, university said Wednesday in a release.
"Our eye can change focus. An insect eye is made of many small optical components that can't change focus but give a wide view. We can combine the two," said Yi Zhao, associate professor of biomedical engineering and ophthalmology at Ohio State. "What we get is a wide-angle lens with depth of field."
In tests, Zhao and doctoral student Kang Wei demonstrated that the lens was able to switch its focus among microscopic objects arranged at different distances.
Zhao's prototype is a flexible transparent polymer filled with a gelatinous fluid similar to fluid inside the human eye, the university said. It's a composite of several separate, dome-shaped fluid pockets, with small domes sitting on top of one larger dome.
Each dome is adjustable, Zhao said. As fluid is pumped in and out of the lens, different parts expand and contract to change the lens' overall shape, direction and focus.
With further development, the technology could be useful in laparoscopes for medical testing and surgery, Zhao said.
The lens also could find a home in smartphones because with a shape-changing lens; a phone could potentially take pictures with the same depth and zoom as more expensive digital cameras, he said.