Researching the amazing semi-conducting properties of the mineral molybdenite (MoS2) since 2011, a team led by Andras Kis of the EPFL Electrical Engineering Institute, Switzerland, has developed a prototype of an image sensor that incorporates the material and has the potential to improve sensor sensitivity by a factor of five. The development is reported in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
The new sensor works in the same way as a conventional digital cameras sensor where a semi-conducting material (silicon-based in conventional sensors), that is divided into millions of pixels, reacts to the incoming photons by generating a specific electrical charge. This charge, which must greater than the threshold current from the battery, is then transferred to the camera’s firmware for processing. What makes the MoS2 sensor exciting though is that the single-atom layer requires only a very small electric charge to function and, because of this, it takes much less light energy to reach the threshold needed to generate a pixel.
Although there is no information on how long it may be before this technology makes its way into the mainstream, or how much it may cost, we are excited that such a sensitivity could open up new possibilities in low-light or night photography, without resorting to “noise”-generating amplification techniques, slowing down the shutter speed or using a flash. For reef aquarium imaging where light levels are usually problematic such a development could prove particularly interesting.