New material discovery for thermal imaging lenses


Researchers at Flinders University have discovered a new low-cost material that can be made into lenses for thermal imaging – opening the way to new advanced manufacturing applications for this powerful technology.

Thermal and infrared imaging are used in many industries including defence, security and surveillance, medicine, electrical engineering, space exploration and autonomous vehicle operation. But the materials traditionally used are expensive and becoming more difficult to find.

A multi-disciplinary team in chemistry and physics at Flinders University have developed a solution in an entirely new polymer material made from sulfur and cyclopentadiene. They have the unique ability to transmit infrared light.

PhD candidate Sam Tonkin, first author in a new article in the international Advanced Optical Materials journal, said: “The material combines high performance, low cost and efficient manufacturing.

“It has the potential to expand the use of thermal imaging to new industries which were previously limited by the high cost of germanium or chalcogenide lenses.

“This is a rapidly developing field which will see exciting advances in the next few years.”.

The lenses used for thermal imaging are currently made from germanium or chalcogenide glasses and can cost thousands of dollars.

Sulfur and Cyclopentadiene are so cheap the raw materials for one of the new lenses could cost less than one cent. They also require complex milling.

Co-author Dr Le Nhan Pham, a Flinders University researcher in computational and physical chemistry, said reacting sulfur and cyclopentadiene together provides a black plastic with high transparency to infrared light.

“This is the light that is detected by thermal imaging cameras.

“This novel material was designed to have a wide array of potential applications from space engineering to military operation, and to civil and aerospace industries.”

The polymer can be molded into a variety of lenses, which can be used to magnify the image in a thermal camera. Because the polymer is black, it can also be used to conceal and protect thermal imaging equipment or used as camouflage to hide a camera used for surveillance.

The polymer has the highest long-wave infrared light transparency ever reported for a plastic.

Picture: Flinders University

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