updated 8/27/2010 1:16:22 PM ET 2010-08-27T17:16:22

It seems like nifty new apps for your smart phone appear every day. How about one that helps you see in the dark? Today, on Engineering Works! Listen to the podcast.

If you like war movies or just keep track of the news from Iraq and Afghanistan, you know something about night vision devices. They’re goggles, mated to a set of lenses and electronic gear that allow soldiers to see in the dark. They work pretty well, but they’re bulky, heavy and expensive.

Now, materials engineers have come up with something that could replace current night vision technology. And it’s everything the current technology isn’t. Small, light and cheap.

Most standard night vision devices work by converting photons, the subatomic particles that make up light, into electrons that hit a phosphorous screen and produce an image you can see. Making this work requires lots of electric power and heavy glass components.

The new idea uses a detector made up of layers of an organic semiconductor connected to an LED array. The LED gives you an image you can see.

The best part is that the device is about the size of a nickel. And it can be made of plastic instead of glass. The researchers say adding it to a cell phone should be really inexpensive. It also could be added to eyeglasses or automobile windshields.

We can’t see in the dark yet, so we’re going to leave for home before the sun goes down. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station.

© 2012 Discovery Channel


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