Place a chunk of the clear mineral called Iceland spar on top of an image and suddenly you'll see double, thanks to a phenomenon called double refraction -- a result of the material's optical anisotropy. Optical anisotropy is the tendency of some materials to alter light’s progress through them differently depending on how the beams are traveling. Beyond just a nifty trick, materials with optical anisotropy are vital for a variety of devices such as lasers, LCD screens, lens filters and microscopes. Now, a team of scientists and engineers has created a crystal that has a higher degree of optical anisotropy than all other solid substances on Earth -- especially for light in the infrared region of the spectrum. One especially promising use for the new crystal could be imaging and other types of remote sensing using the mid-infrared transparency window -- an especially important range of wavelengths that penetrate Earth's atmosphere. The new crystal has roughly 50 to 100 times greater optical birefringence -- a metric of anisotropy -- for mid-infrared light than has ever been measured before. That spectacular light-splitting ability comes from a unique molecular structure consisting of long chains of atoms arranged in parallel rows.
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