RMIT researchers create world's thinnest hologram

Major step towards smartphones with interactive 3D displays, researchers say

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Researchers at RMIT have created what they claim to be the world’s thinnest hologram.

The breakthrough, which uses a nanoscale quantum material, is a major step towards smartphones with 3D displays, the Australian-Chinese research team said.

“If you want to see 3D vision, holography is the ultimate solution because it gives a real three-dimensional view,” RMIT University’s distinguished Professor Min Gu told Computerworld.

If you want to really want to demonstrate those things seen in science fiction like Star Wars, they are very much based on this holographic technology, where people can interact with the 3D view. And that’s why we need a better display and screen

Conventional holograms modulate phases of light to give the illusion of three-dimensional depth. But to do so, the holograms need to be the thickness of optical wavelengths.

The RMIT researchers, working with the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), have dramatically reduced this thickness requirement with a 25 nano-metre hologram which is roughly 1000 times thinner than a human hair.

Their topological insulator material has a low refractive index in its surface layer but an ultrahigh refractive index throughout, so acts as an ‘intrinsic optical resonant cavity’.

“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,” said Dr Zengyi Yue, who co-authored the paper, published in the journal Nature Communications yesterday, with BIT’s Gaolei Xue.

“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 technology could transform a number of industries, Gu said.

“Conventional computer-generated holograms are too big for electronic devices but our ultra-thin hologram overcomes those size barriers,” he said. “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.”

How long will it be until we can view pop-up 3D displays from our smartphone? It’s really a matter of money, Gu explained.

“Everybody wants to know how far away it is. It depends on the funding. We would like to see industry engage with research. We’d be interested in changing the research pathways to more a product driven approach. That way we can accelerate the journey. If there’s a proper partner, in five years’ time we could see some real products.”

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