Science

Molybdenite sensor may allow cameras to be five times more light-sensitive

EPFL's prototype molybdenite light sensor
EPFL's prototype molybdenite light sensor
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EPFL's prototype molybdenite light sensor
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EPFL's prototype molybdenite light sensor
One of Prof. Kis' assistants working with the prototype sensor
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One of Prof. Kis' assistants working with the prototype sensor

Are you fed up with your camera – or any camera – not being able to take decent low-light photos? Just be patient. Swiss researchers have developed a molybdenite light sensor, that they say is five times more light-sensitive than current technology.

On an ordinary light sensor, the semi-conducting silicon surface of each pixel generates an electrical charge in response to exposure to light. The camera’s firmware processes those individual charges to form one cohesive image.

Molybdenite requires much less light energy than silicon, in order to produce a charge. Knowing this, an Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) team led by Prof. Andras Kis developed a proof-of-concept prototype light sensor that utilizes a one-atom-thick layer of molybdenite instead of silicon. They discovered that the sensor’s single pixel produced a charge using just one fifth the amount of light energy required by a pixel on a silicon sensor.

One of Prof. Kis' assistants working with the prototype sensor
One of Prof. Kis' assistants working with the prototype sensor

Like silicon, the mineral molybdenite is naturally abundant and relatively inexpensive.

“Our main goal is to prove that MoS2 [molybdenum disulfide] is an ideal candidate for this kind of application,” says Kis. “It would make it possible to take photographs using only starlight.”

Source: EPFL

9 comments
Bill Bennett
Sounds sweet, same price better picture, I love my Olympus 7040, look forward to the new version
Zaron Gibson
When/if this comes out, I might consider finally upgrading my Nikon D80.
Nathaneal Blemings
Didn't they just recently come out with new technology that lets you take pictures in low light conditions? i dont think its as sensitive as this but more sensitive then what they are comparing it to... it can be used to take pictures by starlight. I'v even recently seen this technology used on tv, it was on national geographic tv, where they recorded a herd of wild elephants in a clearing, saying that it was pitch black but that this new technology allowed them to see from just star light. And it was actually fairly bright. I'm not sure if its the same thing but i looked it up and its a low-light senor made by canon not to long ago.. http://www.gizmag.com/canon-cmos-video-sensor/26546/
Ted Inoue
Stop spreading inaccurate information like this. The sensitivity of a sensor is defined by its quantum efficiency - roughly speaking, its ability to convert photons to usable electrons. Many existing sensors are already 80%+ efficient, so it is physically impossible to be more than 20%-25% more efficient than existing technology. Period. Any claim that a new sensor is better than that is either misleading or inaccurate.
pmshah
It has taken more than 20 years to reach current level for commercial use. For use in photography there are more considerations. Up until recently the sensitivity to the 3 primary colors was not equal. So they had to design the the CCD where there were 2 pixels for green and 1 each for red and blue in a 4 pixel matrix. Kodak finally came out with technology where green light sensitivity was equal to the other 2 colors and the 4th pixel was in the matrix was released for white light to determine the actual brightness of the scene. So variation in sensitivity to the 3 colors and slope of the charge level with varying intensity will determine possibility of use in image capturing appliance.
Jason Steerforth
The big issue to me isn't sensitivity, it's dynamic range. Maybe when they get a two-pixel sensor....
Gregory Gannotti
80% efficient can be 20% MORE efficient, that would be 96% efficient!
Bruce H. Anderson
OK, maybe a little out-of-the-box, but if this is better than silicon could it be used in photovotaic cells?
Roma Khudoleyev
@Nathaneal Blemings that sensor was designed for industrial applications. Canon has released no plans to allow the technology to trickle down into consumer products. It would be an amazing tool for filmmakers if it came in a 4K or 5K version, though.