Surgical camera from Washington University and University of Illinois has microstructures on the lens that increase the sensitivity and accuracy of the imaging device.


  • Reduced costs
  • Less intrusive
  • Small
  • Accurate


  • Medical diagnosis
  • Medical treatment

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 3: Good Health & Wellbeing

The Challenge

Many surgeons rely on just their sight to locate and remove cancerous tissue during surgery, leaving room for human error and omissions due to the limitations of human sight. In instances where technology is used, a dye is injected into the area of operation and specialized displays are used to identify the cancerous tissue. However, these technologies are expensive, bulky, and perform poorly under surgical illumination.

Innovation Details

The imager has specialized microstructures that allow it to simultaneously register colors familiar to the human eye and near-infrared signals. In each of the imager’s pixels, alternating stacks of insulating materials called dielectrics interfere with incoming light spectra, reflecting some while allowing others to be transmitted, creating a spectral filter. Four types of spectral filters are replicated throughout the imaging sensor, differentiated by varying thicknesses of dielectric layers. In a two-by-two arrangement, these four filters create the building blocks of the imager. Three out of the four pixels pick up the red, green, and blue spectra, while the fourth captures near-infrared photons, altogether enabling multispectral sensitivity. The resulting image accurately locates cancerous tissue, performing well even under surgical lighting. Researchers have integrated the imager into surgical goggles so that real-time information is displayed for doctors during surgeries. The technology has shown to have a 1000x higher sensitivity compared to clinical imaging systems currently in use. Moreover, the manufacturing cost of the bio-inspired image sensors is very low, less than $20.

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Biomimicry Story

Morpho butterfly wings contain tree-shaped photonic crystals which either allow for or stunt the propagation of electromagnetic waves of certain frequency ranges. The morpho butterfly eye has similar specialized nanostructures that allow it to see multispectral images, including near-infrared.