Infrared cameras are built by successively laying down multiple layers of semiconductors. This process is prone to error and too costly for inclusion in most commercial electronic products.
A team led by Philippe Guyot-Sionnest, a professor of physics and chemistry at The University of Chicago, turned to quantum dots, which can be tuned to pick up wavelengths of infrared light.
This tunability is important for cameras because they need to acquire different parts of the infrared spectrum. “Collecting multiple wavelengths within the infrared gives you more spectral information—it’s like adding color to black-and-white TV," explained postdoctoral researcher Xin Tang. “Short-wave gives you textural and chemical composition information; mid-wave gives you temperature.”
The researchers tweaked the quantum dots so that they had a formula to detect short-wave infrared and one for mid-wave infrared. After that, they laid both together on top of a silicon wafer. The resulting camera performs extremely well and is much easier to produce.