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Accident Could Lead To Better Digital Cameras 120

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the digital-chamagne dept.
Dave Bullock (eecue) writes "Scientists at UCLA have accidentally created a material that will some day give us better, faster, cheaper, more flexible digital cameras. I toured their lab and shot a photo essay for Wired. Personally I'm looking forward to a quantum-dot embedded camera sensor someday soon. 'Graduate student Hsiang-Yu Chen was working on a new formula for solar cells when something went wrong. Instead of creating electricity when hit with light, the conductivity of the material she was working with changed. "The original purpose [was] to make a solar cell more efficient," says Chen. "However, during the research we found the solar cell phenomenon [had] disappeared." Instead, the test material showed high gain photoconductivity, indicating potential use as a photo sensor.'"
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Accident Could Lead To Better Digital Cameras

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2008 @04:39PM (#25950845)

    ...you'll see a niblet of it, dangled in front of you like a carrot, and then another niblet, and then another. Never will you get a product bringing out the "whoa, this is something totally new, and so much better thatn what we used to have!" in you - and it's just plain ol' business, as usual.

    Seen any of those "whoa!" 3CCD consumer digicams on the market lately? ;)

    • by sssssss27 (1117705) on Monday December 01, 2008 @05:19PM (#25951395)
      Right here. Camera with Foveon X3 sensor [sigma-dp1.com]
      • by dunkelfalke (91624) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @04:30AM (#25956841)

        foveon x3!= 3ccd.

        3ccd are three ccds and a colour-separation prism.
        foveon x3 is a single ccd sensor with three layers.

        • Actually the Foveon x3 isn't even a CCD sensor it's CMOS. People tend to use the terms interchangeably when they really mean image sensor.

          The Foveon x3 is the only one that makes sense in a consumer digital camera. CCDs are just too expensive and a 3CCD with the prism plus alignment issues would make it even worse so it's kind of unrealistic to expect it in a consumer digital camera.
    • Did someone say totally new and much better? It wouldn't matter even if it were true. We already have good and inexpensive photo sensors. If it's cheaper to manufacture, it should eventually get into products, but the consumer shouldn't notice.

      • by A440Hz (1054614)
        From the summary, it says the material had "high gain photoconductivity." I don't know if that means relative to current CMOS and CCD sensors, but there are always "like to haves" with any technology.

        Right now, I'd like to have something that shoots at ISO3200 and above with very low noise, something that is currently difficult without software noise reduction algorithms or only on very expensive cameras (e.g., the Nikon D3 shoots at up to ISO 25,600). If this new material were better in the sensitivity/no
    • this is nothing new, research to mass production always takes quite a bit of time.
  • by oskard (715652) on Monday December 01, 2008 @04:39PM (#25950847)

    Scientific accidents have brought some of the most groundbreaking discoveries - vulcanized rubber, X-rays, penicillin

    I like how they compare 3 things that have been unimaginably advantageous to the human race to something that will allow me to view better-quality porn.

    • by KDR_11k (778916)

      What about the transistor, anyway?

    • by maxume (22995) on Monday December 01, 2008 @05:06PM (#25951227)

      You really need screen-sized pimples to get off?

      The biggest problem with most digital cameras at this point is that they have tiny, low quality lenses pointed at tiny little sensors. The next problem is that the operator is incompetent (I take horrible pictures).

      Instead of over-sized 5 megabyte, poorly framed, poorly lit snapshots that are the norm today, we are going to have super-sized 25 megabyte, poorly framed, poorly lit snapshots.

      Hopefully the increase in speed is decent.

      • by jebrew (1101907)
        Maybe, but my hopes are that these more sensitive photos allow the poorly lit part to go away...after all, if your images can take a much more sensitive photo, then you should be able to get lower ISO values in darker scenes with less noise...
        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          "Poorly lit" doesn't necessarily mean "dark." As in, more light (or sensitivity) isn't necessarily the solution.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        I'd agree with you, except I think you mixed up the order of the top two problems.

      • A higher quality sensor with less noisy gain will allow for better pictures with less light or smaller lens (or faster shutter speed with current lenses and lighting).

      • we are going to have super-sized 25 megabyte, poorly ...

        I suspect with faster cpu's, and denser cheaper faster storage, and so much more data processing. Some of those issues just may be solved in software, and some seemingly minor discovery like this one may be the key.
        IE in a few years the camera may be able to model every defect in crappy lenses simply by pointing it towards any reference landmark that a near perfect reference photo exists. Since software already exists to make bracketed photos, etc a fast enough camera that can vary enough parameters on it

      • Hey! There are hobbist photographers among us! :P And we want more clarity and more megapixels! And there are professionals too (I'm not one of them though).

    • by GuyverDH (232921) on Monday December 01, 2008 @05:09PM (#25951273)

      Dude...

      As anyone who's ever viewed porn at higher resolutions / definition can attest, it doesn't make it better, it brings out every flaw in greater detail - making you wish you'd never upgraded....

      • by mgblst (80109) on Monday December 01, 2008 @09:51PM (#25954237) Homepage

        Is this your reason for avoiding real life contacts as well? Or do you close your eyes when you get intimate with a women.

      • by Dare nMc (468959)

        it brings out every flaw in greater detail

        that's just poor framing, not a fatal flaw of HD cameras. With enough 60"+ TV's out their, instead of zooming in on one small portion, I say add more "actors" (or mirrors) and less extreme zooms, since we can now get that same detail without a zoom.
        Granted if they take the same clips, etc, and just filmed in HD that would be worse. Changing how they film to match the media will eventually make it all much better.

    • by mrops (927562)

      Scientific accidents have brought some of the most groundbreaking discoveries - vulcanized rubber, X-rays, penicillin

      I like how they compare 3 things that have been unimaginably advantageous to the human race to something that will allow me to view better-quality porn.

      How is this rated funny, real people are trying to earn a living with porn. You insensitive clod.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I like how they compare 3 things that have been unimaginably advantageous to the human race to something that will allow me to view better-quality porn.

        How is this rated funny, real people are trying to earn a living with porn. You insensitive clod.

        Parts of the people may be real, other parts are not!

      • by rrohbeck (944847)

        Scientific accidents have brought some of the most groundbreaking discoveries - vulcanized rubber, X-rays, penicillin

        I like how they compare 3 things that have been unimaginably advantageous to the human race to something that will allow me to view better-quality porn.

        How is this rated funny, real people are trying to earn a living with porn. You insensitive clod.

        Obviously the porn industry needs to invest in image processing research. Do the equivalent of airbrushing on your video and your problem is solved.

    • by ari wins (1016630)
      Really though, we must all ask ourselves: Is better quality porn REALLY better? I'm just thinking some things are better left unseen, ya know what I mean?
      • could not be more true. because you know it is simply a matter of time until there is a new goatse in high def - definitely better left unseen.
    • An accidental discovery is often great. I just hope nobody can get a patent for the discovery itself. Since it's an accident...

  • by decalod85 (1214532) on Monday December 01, 2008 @04:41PM (#25950873)
    but the assignment was to make a better solar cell. That's an 'F' for you, Chen!
    • Re:That's great... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bearpaw (13080) on Monday December 01, 2008 @04:54PM (#25951073)

      Funny, though she was smart enough to not just toss the mistake away as worthless. That's the trick with accidental discoveries -- recognizing that the result is valuable even if it isn't the result you were looking for.

      (And the lab is still working on better solar cells.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 3vi1 (544505)

        Now THAT's insightful. Both on Chen's part, and the parent post.

      • Re:That's great... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Amazing Quantum Man (458715) on Monday December 01, 2008 @05:18PM (#25951381) Homepage

        Or, to quote Asimov:

        The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new
        discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...'

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Chris Burke (6130)

        (And the lab is still working on better solar cells.)

        And after many years of creating better photo sensors for cameras, low-leakage transistors for embedded computers, denser hard drive storage, a material for denser optical disks, and a new formula for Coke that people actually like better than the old one, but never a single improvement in solar cell technology, they give up in disgust.

      • "And the lab is still working on better solar cells."

        So, in the end, it will be two inventions for the price of one? I can't wait to get my new solar-powered digicam!

  • Old News (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bmwm3nut (556681) on Monday December 01, 2008 @04:53PM (#25951039)
    This is fairly old news. We've been seeing the same stuff in our lab for about 8 years (also came across it during Quantum Dot research). It's been very hard to characterize. Cool stuff. Since you have x, y, and z resolution when you're "writing" to the photosensitive material, and these spots can be diffraction limited in size, you can imagine the storage density of read-only optical media for this.
  • by Trillan (597339)

    I couldn't find it in the archive because the search tool is down, but Schlock Mercenary [schlockmercenary.com] by Howard Tayler once made the observation that great discoveries are less "Eureka!" and more "Hey, that's funny."

    • by scubamage (727538)
      Except, of course, when Einstein realized that the orbit of Mercury could be used as a proof for relativity. Don't observers claim that he screamed and had heart palpitations?
      • by nschubach (922175)

        I thought he was more excited to prove his gravitational theory that the "bend in space time" would be proven with the refraction of light around the sun. (Which to me only proves that light particles can be manipulated by the attractive force of [electric|magnetic|both] gravity rather than his idea of compressed universe gravity. But then again, I'm just a lowly programmer and not some world acclaimed physicist.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by geminidomino (614729) *

      That was a reference to an Isaac Asimov quote.

      *leaves work early to buy more Ovalkwik*

      • by Trillan (597339)

        I didn't realize that! I'd like to think I've read most of Asimov's work, but there's so much of it I've probably only scratched it.

      • by Adambomb (118938)

        They are the Non, who must become Juffo-Wup or Void.
        We are the agents of Juffo-Wup.

        We are the Mycon. We respond.

        (Thanks for accidentally brightening my day at work! Haven't thought on those lines in years!)

  • by srussia (884021) on Monday December 01, 2008 @05:01PM (#25951157)
    Congrats, but--"Pix, or it didn't happen!"
  • by Danathar (267989) on Monday December 01, 2008 @05:03PM (#25951187) Journal

    1. Dup!

    2. We've been doing that for YEARS...nothing special move along.

    3. Duh...

    4. Unless I invented it myself I don't believe it.

    5. Dick Cheney will probably patent this and sit on it.

  • I dunno, it was also an accident, I was a bit drunk and started swinging random stuff around and like "holy hell, this could sell," and called up a marketing executive. She called me crazy, so I started a better company. I didn't actually do this, but I think the principle holds that drinking and silicon DO NOT MIX, and should never be anywhere remotely near each other under any circumstance, unless the silicon is mixed with an appropriate substrate to facilitate the absolution of grinprocessing, and an F
  • were peer-reviewed and published where?

    Given that some labs have already claimed that this is not a new phenomenon to them, it would be nice to see what is actually newsworthy about their "discovery"

  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Monday December 01, 2008 @06:08PM (#25952123)
    I'm left with the impression that the author of the article is coming to conclusions about this materials success and marketability that are way above his pay grade.
  • Or is it just this particular approach that failed?

    The nanoparticle boost to solar cell efficiency (by slicing photon energies to allow several electron-hole pairs per photon, rather than one, to be formed for photons with energies well above the band gap, and perhaps to additionally combine the undersized "slices" of the photon energies to use them as well) promised a big improvement: A cheap spray-on coating step that would improve the price/performance of photovoltaic panels to finally make them cost-co

  • How fortunate to accidentaly learn a new word from a tag. Now just to make shure im not offtopic - I think this photosynthesis thing is cool, and we should try to find more of it.

  • Chemical Engineers are fascinating to me. My wife is a ChemE, and got her PhD from one of the labs which did this work, but her specialization is cancer therapeutics and protein modification. To have that scientific breadth in the same lab seems crazy to me.

    The actual paper can be found at Nature Nano [nature.com], it's a few months old at this point. For all of you jealous researchers who claim to have already done this, it has all the usual citations. If you're lucky (and published), maybe you got one!

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