World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

May 18, 2017, RMIT University

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday electronics like smart phones, computers and TVs.

Interactive 3D holograms are a staple of science fiction - from Star Wars to Avatar - but the challenge for scientists trying to turn them into reality is developing holograms that are thin enough to work with modern electronics.

Now a pioneering team led by RMIT University's Distinguished Professor Min Gu has designed a nano-hologram that is simple to make, can be seen without 3D goggles and is 1000 times thinner than a human hair.

"Conventional computer-generated holograms are too big for electronic devices but our ultrathin hologram overcomes those size barriers," Gu said.

"Our nano-hologram is also fabricated using a simple and fast direct laser writing system, which makes our design suitable for large-scale uses and mass manufacture.

"Integrating holography into everyday electronics would make screen size irrelevant - a pop-up 3D hologram can display a wealth of data that doesn't neatly fit on a phone or watch.

"From medical diagnostics to education, data storage, defence and cyber security, 3D holography has the potential to transform a range of industries and this research brings that revolution one critical step closer."

Credit: RMIT University

Conventional holograms modulate the phase of light to give the illusion of three-dimensional depth. But to generate enough phase shifts, those holograms need to be at the thickness of optical wavelengths.

The RMIT research team, working with the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), has broken this thickness limit with a 25 nanometre hologram based on a - a novel quantum material that holds the low refractive index in the surface layer but the ultrahigh refractive index in the bulk.

The topological insulator thin film acts as an intrinsic optical resonant cavity, which can enhance the phase shifts for holographic imaging.

Dr Zengyi Yue, who co-authored the paper with BIT's Gaolei Xue, said: "The next stage for this research will be developing a rigid thin film that could be laid onto an LCD screen to enable 3D holographic display.

"This involves shrinking our nano-'s pixel size, making it at least 10 times smaller.

"But beyond that, we are looking to create flexible and elastic thin films that could be used on a whole range of surfaces, opening up the horizons of holographic applications."

The research is published in the journal Nature Communications on 18 May.

Explore further: Stretchable hologram can switch between multiple images

More information: Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS15354

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5 / 5 (1) May 18, 2017
"Integrating holography into everyday electronics would make screen size irrelevant - a pop-up 3D hologram can display a wealth of data that doesn't neatly fit on a phone or watch."

They seem to have created a novel material capable of storing and displaying holographic images, but the rest of the stuff seems to be far beyond what they've done. It seems to take a laser to write the image. How is that going to be done in a phone or watch?? It also takes (front side?) laser illumination to view the display. How will that be done? The video shows the holographic image of a city hovering over the display of a smartphone. How can that be possible? I'm unaware of any technology that can project an image into thin air. Wouldn't the image appear to be behind the display panel?
5 / 5 (3) May 18, 2017
The video shows the holographic image of a city hovering over the display of a smartphone. How can that be possible?

Line of sight to the display is still needed with this tech. You can't project stuff beyond that.

Getting a 'laser screen' as the backdrop wouldn't be all that hard. Laser diodes can be manufactured sufficiently small for a display matrix (though the power requirement would be a bit more than conventional LED screens)
not rated yet May 18, 2017
Is the video broken for anyone else?
not rated yet May 19, 2017
Yes, the part of the demo where you can see the image between you and the user's hand must be wrong. However, if you brought your eye right up to the display (e.g. if it were built into your eyeglasses), you could see an arbitrarily large image beyond the display. I think that's what the researchers meant by overcoming size limits (and the demo resulted from a misunderstanding between the researchers and their PR department).

I believe this display has another limitation - that no part of an image can obscure another. This severely limits realistic images (maybe only convex objects). One could overcome that using eye tracking, and projecting a different image into each eye. Much more processing. (On the other hand, an eyeglass display need only handle one eye, at a known place...)

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