A Hostile laser attack can blind fighter pilots or the cameras and electronic sensors of a military satellite in the blink of an eye. To counter that threat, Paul H. Holloway and a team of engineers from the University of Florida in Gainesville have developed an "artificial eyelid" for lenses, a thin film that can "blink shut" in just one-10,000th of a second. Holloway unveiled a working prototype in early March at a conference of the International Society for Optical Engineering.

To build their high-tech eyelid, Holloway's team borrowed thin-film technology from the semiconductor industry. Six layers of polymers and conductive materials are laid down in patterns producing a protective coating that contains thousands of tiny apertures per square inch. When closed, the apertures are impervious to a broad swath of the light spectrum--from ultraviolet to infrared rays. When open, the apertures allow light to be easily transmitted through the glass wafer. A battery-operated sensor controls the apertures' openings and closings. When the sensor detects a laser beam, it generates a voltage signal that shuts the apertures.

While the primary application for Holloway's artificial lids is military, he sees a multitude of potential consumer uses. They range from better video camera lenses that could eliminate glare from the sun and bright lights to "smart" glasses that instantly adjust to changing light conditions.

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