Leave it to the same university that would probably save our world from an apocalypse to, until that need arises, create better, smaller lenses. Harvard’s School for Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) recently expanded on a previous design for flat optics by adding nano silicone antennae that actually bend the light. The result is an incredibly thin and completely flat glass lens capable of the same light bending properties as our current lenses, but with virtually zero chromatic aberration.
A promising flat optics design was introduced back in 2012, but there were several limitations. That design could only effectively bend one wavelength of light, as opposed to the three (red, green, and blue) necessary for a full color photograph. There were plenty of scientific applications for that lens, but not many practical ones for photography.
The secret lies within the use of SEAS’ silicone antennae that are able to equally shape light of various wavelengths by bending it instantly, rather than over time as with conventional glass lenses. The new design also features higher efficiency over the 2012 design. Harvard is currently applying for a patent as it seeks commercial applications for its new lens technology, now given the name “achromatic metasurface" lenses. We’re still getting used to the term “diffractive optics” as Nikon and Canon pioneer the journey into their new “DO” telephoto lenses, but everyone will soon have no issue with the term once the full implications are realized.
Future applications include smaller lenses with performance gains that would make the chromatic aberration slider in editing programs a thing of the past. Other uses may be tiny telephoto lenses in contacts, increased performance and manipulability of light in wearables like Google Glass, and more. We don't know what it'll look like yet, but it certainly won't be curved, thick, or heavy like the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G pictured above.
Anyone interested in more specifics can read the article on the SEAS website. But rest assured, we’re about to get some really neat glass.