Bob Shell: A Revolution in Imaging

Asian woman wearing corset
Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2021

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021


A Revolution in Imaging


I’ve just learned of an amazing breakthrough in imaging technology.
A camera the size of a grain of salt has been developed by a team of researchers at Princeton University and the University of Washington. In spite of its tiny size, the camera can take sharp RGB images equivalent to those from regular digital cameras. The potential applications for these tiny cameras are very broad, and new applications will doubtless be developed because of this new technology.

While traditional cameras utilize lenses, even the smallest ones, this camera makes use of a metasurface. The metasurface this camera uses to capture images was fabricated by University of Washington optical engineer James Whitehead.

The metasurface is made of silicon nitride, described as a glasslike material usefully compatible with the semiconductor manufacturing methods currently used to produce computer chips. According to the researchers, this means that once the metasurface has been designed, it can be easily mass produced for lower costs than traditional camera lenses.
Ethan Tseng and his colleagues are credited with designing the tiny camera using the metasurface studded with 1.6 million tiny cylindrical posts, each the size of a single virus particle. The whole metasurface measures 0.5 millimeters in width, and, unlike traditional lenses, actually acts like an antenna that can reshape an optical wavefront. This one metasurface can act like a traditional camera that utilizes a six-element lens.

This new technology can turn all sorts of surfaces into ultra high resolution cameras. Instead of having optical lenses in your smartphone, the whole surface of the phone could be one giant camera.

The first use we’ll see for the grain of salt sized cameras will likely be in tiny robots, whose size has been limited by the size of traditional optical systems.  My information comes from a story by Ian Randall, posted on November 30 on

About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here:

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Here’s the link:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *