By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 2, 2009 - Physicists at the Army Research Laboratory are bringing quantum "ghost" imaging from the realm of scientific curiosity to practical reality. Ghost imaging is a technique that allows a high-resolution camera to produce an image of an object that the camera itself cannot see. It uses two sensors: one that looks at a light source and another that looks at the object. These sensors point in different directions. For example, the camera can face the sun and the light meter can face an object.
That object might be a soldier, a tank or an airplane, Ron Meyers, a laboratory quantum physicist explained during an Oct. 28 interview on the Pentagon Channel podcast "Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military."
Once this is done, a computer program compares and combines the patterns received from the object and the light. This creates a "ghost image," a black-and-white or color picture of the object being photographed. The earliest ghost images were silhouettes, but current ones depict the objects more realistically.
Meyers and his team produced the first ghost image of an opaque object in his quantum laboratory at the Army research facility.
"I think, or I would hope, in a few years that we have a soldier using a quantum ghost imaging imager to look through battlefield smoke and identifying friend or foe," Meyers said.
Using virtually any light source -- from a fluorescent bulb, lasers, or even the sun -- quantum ghost imaging gives a clearer picture of objects by eliminating conditions such as clouds, fog and smoke beyond the ability of conventional imaging.
Meyers said there are other applications for ghost imaging in the military. Ghost-imaging sensors may allow helicopters or unmanned aerial vehicles to capture images that measure damage after a bomb is dropped. In the medical field, the imaging could improve X-rays to focus in on body parts. It also could be also used in search and rescue efforts.
Meyers, who recently won an Army Research and Development Achievement Award for his work in quantum physics and imaging, said receiving this award "shows that the efforts made in this area are being looked at seriously and are being considered for future applications."
"What we try to do is come up with innovative solutions that will support the warfighter," he said. "And when we can, we also spin off our technology for domestic uses."
One of the biggest challenges Meyers faces is getting good measurements. "When you do a new science, you really need to perform your measurements with high quality so the experiments can be repeated by others," he said. "At the Army Research Laboratory, we've been very lucky that we've been able to be funded to get very high-quality instruments."
Meyers added that he finds his career in the Army rewarding. "I think it's really the best place to work for a scientist. You're given responsibility at a young age, and you're able to go as far as your thoughts and your abilities can take you."
(Christen N. McCluney works in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)