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The Wet Look

Computer monitors give us eye-popping displays in which the light areas look as much as 800 times lighter than the dark ones. But these images are born inside a computer; a cam-era gazing at a scene cannot capture contrast anywhere near that high. The reason: Light reflecting off the air-glass surfaces produces “lens flare.” As a result, whites don’t look as white as they do in reality; blacks don’t look as black.

Physicist Edward F. Kelley of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., has come up with a novel way to rectify this shortcoming-by emulating Mother Nature. Our eyes don’t suffer from lens flare, Kelley says, because they are liquid-filled. His logical solution: inject oil into the space between a camera’s lens and the sensors that convert the image into an electronic signal. In preliminary work, addition of liquid to a camera hiked contrast-capturing capability seventyfold. While a consumer-grade eye-ball camera is possible, the technology will probably appear first in scientific instruments that need to detect contrast with high precision.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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