Scientists Develop Night Vision Contact Lens

Night Vision lensTroops might be able to replace those heavy night vision goggles strapped to their helmets and replace them with contact lenses.

The University of Michigan has developed a prototype contact lens that enhances night vision by placing a thin strip of graphene between layers of glass. The graphene — a form of carbon — reacts to photons, which makes dark images look brighter.

The development of the lens still has quite a ways to go before soldiers can scrap those heavy goggles. Right now the graphene only absorbs 2.3 percent of the light. Those percentages have to rise before true night vision can be achieved.

Ted Norris and Zhaohui Zhong of Michigan’s College of Engineering are the ones who have developed the prototype.

This technology is not limited to a contact lens. The developers said the graphene could be incorporated into windshields and amplify night vision while driving.

According to reports, the U.S. Army has already shown interest in the technology.



About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • blight_

    Pity humans don’t have a tapetum lucidum; then we could see as well as cats (which still isn’t great enough to fly helicopters at night).

    Edit: Some old data on graphene photomultipliers (but not in contact lens form)……

    • cjkosh

      It might be easier and more efficient to make a human tapetum lucidum and make the rods and cones more sensitive (maybe via drugs so would only be for brief periods?) It should only be a matter of time before they can just print desired eye structures instead of trying to grow them.

  • eddi

    Just a question. Is a contact lens the only option for using this technology? Speaking as someone who has worn contacts, it seems just about any field environment is not a real good place for them. Especially if they cannot be cleaned regularly or replaced constantly. And how about adding in optical corrections for those needing it? Modified goggles would seem the better option.

    • blight_

      They’re also presumably irritating and not very fun in dirty environments. And no, contact lenses aren’t the only option, it’s just the one they have chosen to run with.

    • tmb2

      The military generally looks down on wearing contacts in the field. A pair of glasses made out of this stuff would be better.

    • Clint Notestine

      id assume it would be limited to pilots or something similar where the environment can be controlled

    • rebbel

      soooo true

    • misha

      Good point. Maybe the “This technology is not limited to a contact lens…” could include lightwt eye pro.

    • Edward Barr

      I have worn contacts for a few years, in combat environments, and they were just fine. I always carried a spare set, if I had to take them out.
      Optical correction would not be a problem. These strips are layered between the glass. So, the glass thickness would be altered just as they would be anyways, but incorporating adjustment for the thickness of the strips. (Which I assume means the wearer would need to use hard lenses for this, at least for now)

      Also, as said, generally contacts are not preferred in combat. So, they would not need to correct, as wearers would still use their glasses.
      Not wearing contacts, in combat, is not due to weather/environment conditions. It’s due to the potential of having a loss/damage of contact sudden decrease/change in vision.

  • Stephen Russell

    Great for Intelligence IE undercover work, 007 use.
    But cant see in the Field IE Spec Ops IE jungle, mtns.
    Fine for formal dress events at embassies etc alone,.
    & concealed carry weapon on person

  • hibeam

    What happens when the floodlights come on? You would need to be able to throttle the gain of these contact lenses. How would that work?

    • hibeam

      I swing at every pitch.

    • wtpworrier

      You don’t expect them to give away all their trade secrets do you?

    • Tom Billings

      There will be power to the photomultipliers that determines how much they magnify the brightness. There will be a sensor that measures absolute brightness, and damps down the power that allows multiplied brightness to give a maximum that the eye can adapt to using the iris. This sort of damping is not new. Though it is not instantaneous, it does not have to be, just fast. If need be, whatever dark adaptation that is lost can be compensated for as well.

  • RWB123

    That’s the first thing I thought of when I read this article. The first generation night scopes suffered badly from flaring. Seems like these lenses would be worse.

  • M. Speight, PhD

    In 1984 I worked for a law firm in Santa Barbara CA doing computer input as a part-time student job. A Physicist at UCSB invented these type of lens at that time and I wrote up the Patent application for the man’s attorney. Those lens made seeing in the dark a thing of the past, they were amazing. I asked the attorney about them and he said the public would never seem them because the US Government has first rights to all patents. The lenses most likely ended up on spy satellites and we have never enjoyed car windshields made from them or eye glasses to help those with night blindness. We can only hope that these lenses will be made public, and that our men and women in the military will no longer have to wear extremely uncomfortable gear.

    • blight_

      How interesting. Patent probably goes to the Regents of the University of California if done at UCSB.

  • engineer

    I don’t get it.
    light might reach the “contact lens” from every direction.
    In order to work, the multiplied light has to exit at the same direction.
    in other words- where are the Objective lens and the eyepiece? how can they be squeezed into a film?!
    looks to me that the so-called “Contact Lens” only replaces the magnification tube in the NVG.
    that’s great, but the final product would be “smaller NVG”, not a “contact lens”.

    • wtpworrier

      It’s called technology my friend, technology.

      • Dr. Horrible

        This statement makes no sense.

    • markgubrud490204058

      Yes, you are right; the “contact lens” is hype. See my comment below.

      • engineer

        I found a short description that verifies that the device is indeed a replacement for the detector, not the entire goggles.…

        they measure the electrical affect of holes created in a graphene layer; this cannot be done while preserving the orignal photon phase. hence, (larger than contact lens) optics are required.

    • vidyaguy99

      If the phase were preserved during the photon amplification then you wouldn’t need the other optics (see Feynman’s note on lenses). I suspect that the phase is preserved, as it is in stimulated emission of light (lasers). However, I have not read the research paper, so I can’t speak with any authority.

      • markgubrud490204058

        The fundamental problem with this scenario is that such a laser amplifier can only work within a narrow slice of the spectrum. This follows from the uncertainty principle (energy-time): if it were broadband, the excited state would have a very short lifetime for spontaneous decay, hence the device would be hugely inefficient.

  • Hunter76

    Google Glass.

  • Tim C

    Yeah, contacts wouldn’t be the best use…. especially if someone suddenly turned on the lights. Windshields are better. For personal use Google glass should pick it up.

    • tmb2

      They already issue us fragment-protected glasses in several different colors. I wonder if that can be combined with this coating.

      • SEJH

        I love that idea i thought the same exact thing

  • wtpworrier

    If they give me eyes like Jordie LaForge(after the visor) or Riddic, I might have to get me a set of them!

  • Robert Crawford

    Sign me up for a set.

  • markgubrud490204058

    Folks, the photo shows the Google lens, a glucose sensor for diabetics.

    The research reported here shows that graphene can be an effective uncooled IR detector. It could be used to make a focal plane array. The “contact lens” would require an array of micro-cameras with such FPAs and a micro-projector into the eye. That’s a pure fantasy at this point.

    More at

  • Domingo Aguilar

    This is great, now I just wish someone could invent something that can help me see through my left eye. I have a hole through the middle of the retina, and my doctors tell me that there is nothing out there that could possibly help me see through the eye. I lost my vision from the eye while on active duty with the Military, and the VA doctors keep telling me that there is nothing that they can do for me, and that I just have to live with it. Easier said than done Right? I just want to be able to see through my eye. I suffer a lot of anxiety because of it.

    • Infantry

      PTSD shouldn’t be excused or dismissed by an eye.

  • vachik

    It’s such a great achievement by Scientists they develop night vision contact lenses.Great !

    • Anthony Marino

      Common no scientist came up with this, this is a stolen idea from my book Ursala the Undying Back Secrets 2

  • will

    add some collard changing lenses or head up display and adjustable zoom to see enmy at extream range and internet hi speed chip.and look out compition ,iron man,f-35,kh-xx satlite or tellscopes.

  • David

    Can I be in the testing of the night vision contacts. Been very interested in this I have had the same idea on this. And very interested in be in the testing of it. Please let me know if I can be part of it.

  • Martin VanBuren

    The drawback to this approach is the lack of ability to control gain, so any flashes of light will be a problem. Current NVIS tubes have the same shortcoming, but at least they have gain control; Contact lens’s don’t. It would be better to apply such a tedchnology to prescription-like glasses, so at least the operator can keep them clean, and remove them if they encounter excessive brighter lights, such as in combat, headlights, entering an urban area, etc.

  • MaDan

    I have a doubt that is a lens can be made such that they can glow at dark…like cats..???