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"[Science fiction] has become big business, where books are merchandised and promoted and distributed and placed on sale like slabs of bacon or cans of soup."
- Frederik Pohl

Oil Lens  
  Oil held in tension in an enclosing force field, used as an optical component.  

In the world of Dune, seeing has a variety of implications, religious (state of consciousness, prescient ability to see the future) as well as practical. The hawk, symbol of the ruling Atreides family, is also a far-seeing animal.

The oil lens is described as "hufhuf oil held in static tension by an enclosing force field within a viewing tube as part of a magnifying or other light-manipulation system."

Will you look at that thing! Stilgar whispered. Paul lay beside him in a slit of rock high on the shield wall rim, eye fixed to the collector of a Fremen telescope. The oil lens was focused on a starship lighter exposed by dawn in the basin below them. The tall eastern face of the ship glistened in the flat light of the sun, but the shadow side still showed yellow portholes from glowglobes of the night.
From Dune, by Frank Herbert.
Published by Putnam in 1965
Additional resources -

Since each oil lens element can be manipulated one micron at a time, these systems were considered the finest available for the manipulation of visible light (in the novel).

I've found references to ships in the 1920's that used oil lens lanterns, but they probably just burned the oil for illumination. And microscopes use oil lenses, but they are just regular glass lenses used with an immersion oil. So, I can't find anyone earlier than Herbert with this idea.

And, in a recent news story, researchers at Bell Labs, US, have made a 2mm-diameter liquid microlens with a position and focal length that can be adjusted by applying a voltage. The team is now using the lens in optical switching and optical signal processing. (Applied Physics Letters 82 316).

At the turn of the century, astronomers tried creating reflective mirrors for astronomical telescopes by putting a pool of mercury on a turntable, and then spinning the table at a constant rate. The resulting parabolic curve was obtained without the many hours of polishing; however, the surface was marred by irregularities caused by drive speed variations.

If you are interested in the ultimate in exotic lenses, take a look at the gravity lens from Larry Niven's 1973 novel Protector.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Dune
  More Ideas and Technology by Frank Herbert
  Tech news articles related to Dune
  Tech news articles related to works by Frank Herbert

Oil Lens-related news articles:
  - Philips FluidFocus: Variable Focus Fluid Lens
  - Varioptic Liquid Lens For Phone Cameras
  - Liquid Camera Lens Controlled By Sound
  - Tunable Liquid Lens Glasses For The Masses
  - TruFocals Glasses Do Not Use Hufhuf Oil
  - Auto-Focus Smart Glasses Have Liquid Lenses

Articles related to Engineering
Wear Your Self-Powered Generator
Auto-Focus Smart Glasses Have Liquid Lenses
Google Perfects 'Blade Runner-style' Photo Details
CloudFisher - Moroccan Fog Farmers Harvest Moisture From The Air

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