Just imagine, an optical lens so powerful that it lets you view features the size of a small virus on the surface of a living cell in its natural environment. Construction of instruments with this capability is now possible because of a fundamental advance in the quality of an optical material used in hyperlensing, a method of creating lenses that can resolve objects much smaller than the wavelength of light. The optical material involved is hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), a natural crystal with hyperlensing properties. The best previously reported resolution using hBN was an object about 36 times smaller than the infrared wavelength used: about the size of the smallest bacteria. Researchers report improvements in the quality of the crystal that enhance its potential imaging capability by about a factor of 10. The researchers achieved this enhancement by making hBN crystals using isotopically purified boron. Natural boron contains two isotopes that differ in weight by about 10 percent, a combination that significantly degrades the crystal’s optical properties in the infrared.
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