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Nanotech could mean sharper snaps

CMOS image sensor
CMOS image sensors are used in most digital and mobile phone cameras

Researchers in Scotland have been given nearly half a million pounds to try to improve digital camera images.

The team, lead by scientists at the University of Glasgow, are developing small nanostructures that would be used on light detecting image sensors.

These new hi-tech chips would be used in camera equipment to produce sharper and more colourful images.

The project is being funded by a 489,234 grant from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council.

We'll be using nanotechnology to manipulate particles... to create a new optical effect
Professor David Cumming

The researchers are using a phenomenon called surface plasmon resonance, which is an effect exhibited by certain metals when light waves fall onto their surfaces.

In digital cameras, this is the metal film used on microchip image sensors - known as a CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) - that detect light waves and convert them into digital signals.

When light shines on the metal film, electrons on the surface absorb the energy of the light waves and begin oscillating, or shaking, in groups. The resultant combined waves are called plasmons, and they modify the way light is distributed around the metal. The CMOS then measures the light and assigns it a digital value which is then used to build up the bigger image.

The Scottish scientists hope to find a way of creating patterns or small nanostructures in the metal film on the CMOS. This should increase the sensitivity of the sensor and result in higher quality images.

"We'll be using nanotechnology to manipulate particles, so as to take advantage of the properties of electrons to create a new optical effect," Professor David Cumming of Glasgow University who is leading the research team.

"Digital imaging has come a long way in recent years and this project aims to further improve the ability of digital devices to produce high-quality pictures," he added.

Researchers also want to try and "tune" resonating plasmons into the same frequency as light, which could improve colour discrimination.

The project is expected to last until the middle of 2012.

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