'Seeing' through paint

March 18, 2010 By Miranda Marquit feature
Schematic of the apparatus. The laser is expanded and reflected off a SLM. The phase-modulated beam is focused on the multiple-scattering sample and the output intensity speckle pattern is imaged by a CCD camera: lens (L), polarizer (P), diaphragm (D). Image (c) 2010 American Physical Society, DOI:10.1103/PhysRevLett.104.100601

(PhysOrg.com) -- When light passes through materials that we consider opaque, such as paint, biological tissue, fabric and paper, it is scattered in such a complex way that an image does not come through. "It is possible to see the light, but not the information," Sylvain Gigan tells PhysOrg.com. "We wanted to create a way to see the information through opaque media."

Gigan is a scientist at the City of Paris Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Educational Institute (ESPCI). Gigan worked in a group with Popoff, Lerosey, Carminati, Fink and Boccara to create an experiment that demonstrates that it is possible to construct a transmission matrix that allows them to “see” through some opaque materials. The results of their experiment are described in : “Measuring the Transmission Matrix in Optics: An Approach to the Study and Control of Light Propagation in Disordered Media.”

“When people try to look into an opaque medium, especially biological material, they use the ballistic light, the light that has not been mixed up by the medium due to scattering. But as you go into the medium, the ballistic light becomes less intense, limited by the scattering process.”

Instead of being limited by scattering, though, the group at ESPCI instead looked for ways to use scattering to their advantage. Gigan and his colleagues passed light through zinc oxide, which is common in paint. They observed the way the light of a laser scattered as it passed through, and then created a numerical model to describe the result. “This transmission matrix is a map through the medium,” Gigan explains. “Once we have the transmission matrix, it is possible to analyze whatever pattern goes through.”

The process provides the means to put together an image of something on the other side, allowing the researchers to “see” through the layer, even though it is opaque. Reversal is also possible, offering a way to tailor a beam that could pass through opaque material, and then focus. “Such a method could allow for applications in imaging of biological material, among other applications,” Gigan says. “This provides a way to transmit information or focus light in a medium that wouldn’t by any classical means allow that.”

There are limitations, however. “This should not be construed to mean that we can see through walls with this technique,” Gigan points out. “Some degree of light has to be able to pass through, and a wall stops light from coming out the other side. You could use white , paint, or paper, though. Even , like a chicken breast, could work.”

Gigan also admits that so far the process is rather slow. “Getting the matrix is a slow process, taking minutes. We used paint because it is so stable. If you wanted to actually go through biological media, or through liquid, it wouldn’t work with our current set-up, since the light transmission changes as the medium moves.”

For now, the group at ESPCI is working on tackling the problems presented by technology. “The main limitation for using this technique in biological microscopy is technical. There are some hints of how to get the transmission matrix faster, but at the moment we’re not really ready.”

Despite the limitations, Gigan sees some current applications. “There are implications for nanotechnology, and the propagation of light in this system is interesting. It offers a basis for the idea of manipulating the wave, and we believe this could be a promising approach to imaging. Perhaps in five years we will have the technology to take this even further.”

Explore further: How to see through opaque materials

More information: Popff, et. al., “Measuring the Transmission Matrix in Optics: An Approach to the Study and Control of Light Propagation in Disordered Media,” Physical Review Letters (2010). Available online: link.aps.org/doi/10.1103/PhysRevLett.104.100601


Related Stories

How to see through opaque materials

March 8, 2010

New experiments show that it's possible to focus light through opaque materials and detect objects hidden behind them, provided you know enough about the material.

Light Scattering Method Reveals Details under Skin

April 12, 2005

A new optical method that can image subsurface structures under skin has been demonstrated by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The ...

Measuring the Speed of Light in Composite Materials

August 2, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Although the speed of light is constant in a vacuum, light slows down a small amount when traveling through other materials. While it's relatively easy to measure the speed of light in mediums made of one ...

Is random lasing possible with a cold atom cloud?

May 18, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Random lasing, Robin Kaiser tells PhysOrg.com, is like standard lasing, with a little bit of a twist: “You don’t know the direction the photons will go, as you do with a more standard laser. This is because ...

New method could lead to narrower chip patterns

April 10, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at MIT have found a novel method for etching extremely narrow lines on a microchip, using a material that can be switched from transparent to opaque, and vice versa, just by exposing it to certain ...

Recommended for you

New type of electron lens for next-generation colliders

October 18, 2017

Sending bunches of protons speeding around a circular particle collider to meet at one specific point is no easy feat. Many different collider components work keep proton beams on course—and to keep them from becoming unruly.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Mar 18, 2010
I was under the impression that opaque meant no light at all was transported through the medium. This sounds like the medium needs to be translucent...no denigration of the accomplishment intended.
not rated yet Mar 18, 2010
I agree with Quarl. That was the definition of opaque that I learned. Translucent would definitely be a better word to use.
Mar 18, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
not rated yet Mar 20, 2010
Opacity has a degree, shining ultra bright focused light(laser) to an opaque surface can still render transmission of minute light across the surface. Perhaps they can use lights of other wavelengths(e.g. X-rays, but can this work? I just guess.

Rearranging the light matrix is fairly doable nowadays, just like the sophisticated NMR machines in hospitals.

This particle accelerator will allow scientists to read some books without even opening them(unfortunately by using X-rays).
not rated yet Mar 21, 2010
This sounds very similar to Phase Conjugate Optics; non linear optical parametric interactions and ray tracing.
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010
Thinking outside the box a bit here, but could this technique potentially be used to improve optical telescopes' ability to filter out the aberrations caused by the atmosphere, by observing it and building up its transmission matrix? I realize the atmosphere is hardly opaque, but ... of course, this would have to be possible in real time first.
not rated yet Mar 29, 2010
"Schematic of the apparatus. The laser is expanded and reflected off a SLM". Can someone ,please, explain to me what is SLM
not rated yet Mar 31, 2010
SLM stands for - Spatial Light Modulator
Mar 31, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.