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University research: Tiny lens has a big future

A tiny auto-focus lens developed at Université Laval could soon spell the end to those lousy, out-of-focus pictures taken with cell phone cameras.


California-based company LensVector, which acquired the rights to the Laval invention, has raised more than $50 million to commercialize the technology and says it has received a very positive response from cell phone makers.

Manufacturers are now testing the lenses in their products, and “orders could be coming soon,” says Tigran Galstian, an engineering professor at Laval and head of technology development at LensVector. Dr. Galstian and Vladimir Presnyakov, then a postdoctoral fellow at Laval, unveiled their lens research in 2005 in the Journal of Applied Physics.

A traditional lens, which moves back and forth to bring objects into focus, requires a mechanical device and a motor. The tinier, cheaper lens developed by the two researchers has no mechanical movement and instead relies on a small electrical current that rearranges the molecules in the lens, which in turn adjusts the focal length. The technology could be used not just in cell phones, but also laptops, pocket video camcorders and other consumer electronics.

While the head office of LensVector is in California, Dr. Galstian would like to see much of the R&D remaining in Quebec and, to that end, founded TLCL Recherche Optique. The small company’s office is on campus and has about a dozen employees, including several former students and postdocs.

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