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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 February 2008, 18:00 GMT
Holographic displays step closer
Still from holographic image of skull, Nature

Holograms could soon be helping monitor surgical procedures after a faster way to make the 3D images is discovered.

The journal Nature reports the breakthrough by US researchers who developed a novel material in which holographs can be created in minutes.

The images that the material can capture are almost as sharp as those broadcast on US television.

The polymer can also be made into large screens opening up many more possible uses for the 3D images.

Looking good

The problems associated with making holographs has before now limited the use of them to very specialised fields.

But the photorefractive polymer created by Savas Tay and colleagues at the University of Arizona, Tucson, may help to change that as it removes some of the obstacles to producing them.

Holographs are created by mixing reflected laser light with a second laser beam to lay down a static image - typically a lengthy, complicated and delicate process.

Lasers, Eyewire
Images are laid down in the holographic material using lasers
In a paper in Nature Mr Tay and colleagues describe their thin-film polymer that can have images "written" to it in minutes and can be wiped as quickly to take and display another image.

The material has been shown to stay stable throughout hundreds of write and erase cycles.

The ability to quickly refresh images in holographs could mean that surgeons use them as a guide during operations or as a better way for pharmaceutical researchers to study molecular interactions for new drugs during simulations.

The team has automated the process of capturing, writing and erasing images via a system that can take input from MRI, CAT scans, satellite or aerial photographs and microscopes.

The team released a video showing the images that result from its holographic recording system. They warned that the footage was a "poor guide" to the finished quality which was comparable to the pictures broadcast in the US NTSC format.

Working with hi-tech firm Nitto Denko the researchers have so far only made a screen measuring 10cm by 10cm.

However, in Nature they wrote: "There is no technological limit to the achievable display size, because large thin-film devices can be fabricated and even tiled together".

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