Washington: Engineers have designed a lens that enables microscopic objects to be seen from nine different angles at once to create a 3D image.
Other 3D microscopes use multiple lenses or cameras that move around an object; the new lens is the first single, stationary lens to create microscopic 3D images by itself.
Allen Yi, associate professor of integrated systems engineering at Ohio State University, called the lens a proof of concept for manufacturers of microelectronics and medical devices, the Journal of the Optical Society of America A reports.
"Using our lens is basically like putting several microscopes into one microscope," said postdoctoral researcher and study co-author Lei Li, according to an Ohio statement.
"For us, the most attractive part of this project is we will be able to see the real shape of micro-samples instead of just a two-dimensional projection," said Li.
"Ultimately, we hope to help manufacturers reduce the number and sizes of equipment they need to miniaturise products," Yi added.
The prototype lens, which is about the size of a fingernail, looks at first glance like a gem cut for a ring, with a flat top surrounded by eight facets.
"No matter which direction you look at this lens, you see a different shape," Yi explained. Such a lens is called a "freeform lens" -- a type of freeform optics.