Last updated March 8th 2017

Several technologies, such as X-ray, ultrasound, CT and MRI, allow us to see through surfaces. But now, a new light-based technology developed in Israel could take us one step further.

Instead of using a large x-ray machine, and potentially being exposed to radiation, we can now see through semi-opaque surfaces using only a smartphone. Developed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, this new light technology allows us to see through surfaces by analyzing the scattering of the light.

This preliminary research could in the future revolutionize science by enabling better microscope images, but could also help in diagnosing diseases in a noninvasive way, since our skin is considered a semi-opaque surface.

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Semi-opaque glass

When light hits an opaque surface like frosted glass, it scatters, becomes jumbled and we can’t interpret what’s hiding behind the surface. Historically, researchers have thought light scattering to be totally random: If we can’t see properly past the surface, then we can’t receive information from it.

“Getting information from something that looks completely informationless”

But the new research out of the Hebrew University tells a different story. Light scattering is not random, and can in fact give us much information with proper analysis. “We are fascinated by the idea of getting information from something that looks completely informationless,” Dr. Ori Katz, who leads the study, tells NoCamels.

Katz, who heads the university’s Advanced Imaging Lab in the Applied Physics Department, is fascinated by this new way of using light to see through surfaces – and even skin. Katz and his team recently used a smartphone camera to take a photo of an object hidden behind a frosted glass window.

“What you see in the image we took is only a blurred halo of the light that comes from the object,” he explains. “But by carefully analyzing the correlations in the image, we could retrieve the shape of the object.” In other words, the light in the image actually revealed more about the object than the camera or the eye initially perceived.

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Looking deep into the body

Katz imagines a world of future possibilities in just a few years, even in the security field. Think of any chase scene you see in a movie, where a bad guy can hide around the corner and out of sight from the cops. Now, he wouldn’t be so lucky: The way light bounces off the wall could reveal where he is hiding.

That’s why the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is among the institutions offering grants to Katz’s lab, which is also funded by the European Research Council and the Human Frontier Science Program.


Among the best known superheroes with “x-ray vision” is the fictional character Superman.

While the technology is still being developed, a revolution could be underway soon. Says Katz: “This really triggers one’s imagination of what could be possible when light is scattered. You can look deep into the body. This is what really fascinates us and motivates us.”

Photos: Superman The Movie / Warner Bros.Titus TscharntkeRodion Kutsaev

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