Optical sensing and imaging of the world around us is of critical importance for a wide variety of technologies from defense-, environmental- and medical- applications to consumer products. With a conventional camera, objects in a 3D scene are mapped to a 2D intensity projection captured on a photosensor. By virtue of the detection process, the rich information encoded in the incident wavefront about the specific way in which matter in the scene has interacted with the light - such as polarization, depth, phase, coherence, and incidence angle - is irreversibly lost. An additional challenge is presented by the need for high-throughput, real-time, and low power image processing of increasingly large data sets which digital electronics alone is ill-suited for.

Our MURI team sees a groundbreaking opportunity to take advantage of recent developments in the fields of nanophotonics, computational design and information theory to tackle these challenges with the potential to revolutionize the field of optical imaging, processing and computing. By augmenting imaging systems with designer nanostructured optical coatings, termed metasurfaces, we envision capturing more information from a scene than a simple light intensity map and off-load certain critical tasks to non- or low- energy consuming fast optical elements.

Our specific objectives are:

  1. Demonstrate metasurface-enabled sensing capable of extracting additional degrees of freedom of light and develop new methods for optical image processing to extract and process the maximum possible information from such data in an automated fashion.
  2. Explore the use of programmable metasurfaces to perform front-end optical processing and computing using highly nonlinear and reconfigurable material platforms.
  3. Discover new opportunities and concepts for photon-to-charge conversion processes enabled by nanophotonics, including detector sensitivity and speed.
  4. Reveal the theoretical ultimate performance and scaling limits in power consumption, speed, photon sorting, conversion efficiency, and volume, and implement metasurfaces operating at or close to these limits.

This project represents a new research frontier at the intersection of nanoscience, photonics, photon-to-charge-conversion and information science and will lay the foundation for advanced imaging in an on-chip platform critical for a range of DOD missions demanding ultra-small size, weight and power.

Participating Universities

AFOSR MURI FA9550-21-1-0312 — Program Manager: Lt Col. Wooddy S. Miller