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    Innovation of the Week: 3D volumetric images

    This photo provided by the Dan Smalley Lab at Brigham Young University in January 2018 shows a projected image of the earth above a finger tip in Provo, Utah. Scientists have figured out how to manipulate tiny nearly unseen specks in the air and use them to produce images more realistic than most holograms, according to a study published on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2018, in the journal Nature. (Dan Smalley Lab, Brigham Young University via AP)
    Dan Smalley Lab/Brigham Young University via AP
    A projected image of the earth above a finger tip in Provo, Utah. Scientists have figured out how to manipulate tiny, nearly unseen specks in the air and use them to produce images more realistic than most holograms, according to a study in the journal Nature.

    What is it? 3D volumetric image

    Innovators Brigham Young University researchers

    What were they thinking? That little, flat hologram on your credit card is cool enough. But it isn’t what you were promised. Ever since “Star Wars,” when R2D2 projected an image of Princess Leia in distress — “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” — you’ve wanted something more: something truly three dimensional. And so, it seems, has a group of researchers at Brigham Young University.

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    Did it work? In a paper published in the journal Nature, BYU electrical and computer engineering professor Daniel Smalley details the method his team developed for creating 3D volumetric images. Don’t call them holograms, he says. Holograms only appear on 2D surfaces. But do indulge your sci-fi fantasies. “We refer to this colloquially as the Princess Leia project,” Smalley tells Science Daily. “Our group has a mission to take the 3D displays of science fiction and make them real. We have created a display that can do that.” Early images include a butterfly, a prism, and a person in a lab coat, crouched over in the same pose as Leia when she delivered her desperate plea.