The Role of 2D Materials in Creating a Smart Lens

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The future of computing will be determined by the new materials more than anything else. Novel materials are key to unlocking further progress in semiconductor miniaturization, performance, and energy efficiency. This is why XPANCEO as a company has staffed its R&D department with world-leading talent in 2D materials. Why do we find new materials so essential to the task of building the next generation of personal computing devices? The answer is more complex than you may expect.

Have you ever noticed how one of the most common ways to categorize the stages of human civilization is based on the prevailing material: stone age, bronze age, or iron age? And while you’re pondering that, ask yourself: what age are we in? As our technology becomes more complicated multiple legitimate answers to this question emerge: metals still play a huge role, but so do synthetic materials. And then there is silicon, of course. If you ask me to pick one material to name the current ‘age’, I would say ‘silicon’ but also immediately add that a new era is about to dawn.

There was a good reason Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov received the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics for their groundbreaking research on graphene. It was a glimpse into the future; the first of many materials that we’ve come to call ‘2D’ or ‘single-layer’ materials. They have one definitive property: their atomic lattices are exactly that — single layers. The atoms are still bound together in two dimensions, however, the forces that were previously ‘busy’ binding the crystal in the 3rd dimension are now free and give these materials a whole range of radically new properties that you don’t see in any of their ‘normal’ equivalents. And these properties are truly fascinating.

Let’s consider the product we are working on — a personal computer embedded in a contact lens — and see how 2D materials are critical to building it.

  1. If we want to pack all the necessary components into a lens we are going to need levels of miniaturization that traditional material simply cannot offer. 2D materials are not just ‘thinner’ — they allow us to create waveguides and other optical components that defy the most important limitation — the diffraction limit. For that reason, they can be made smaller than half the wavelength of visible light. We are talking about nanometers here.
  2. Next are electrodes and antennae. Traditional conductors are not going to work in a device like a lens — we want them to be both flexible and transparent. Working with 2D materials, we have developed a method for making metallic films that both are transparent and can successfully replace metals in electronics. We can have gold or copper wiring in the lens that would not obstruct the view.
  3. Most importantly, we are now in a phase of assembling a toolbox for the future: the whole semiconductor segment can be reimagined based on 2D materials. Moreover, we can build photonic devices that can match the scale of electronic semiconductors and shift the whole industry towards photonics.
  4. Finally, and this is very important for our vision of how personal devices are going to evolve: 2D materials open new possibilities for sensorics, bio-compatibility, and overall better human-machine integration (which is a whole separate subject). While building a lens that would be actually wearable and functional requires 2D materials, the lens is just one example of the transformation the industry will have to undergo in order to evolve to the next stage. And maybe this new age won’t be referred to by its key material, but it would nevertheless be strongly dependent on some of them.

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