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Metamaterials represent a new emerging innovative field of research which has shown rapid acceleration over the last couple of years and captured the imagination of the world’s media. The concept of metamaterials is defined through structure rather than through chemistry.
What are Metamaterials?
The key to exploiting and controlling light is to focus on the interaction between light and materials. When a beam of light passes the boundary between two materials the speed at which the light is travel-ling changes and the path of light is deflected. To tailor the properties of optics, such as camera lenses and lasers, the chemical composition of materials is adjusted. Naturally occurring materials show a limited range of electrical and magnetic properties, thus restricting our ability to manipulate light and other forms of electromagnetic waves.
At Imperial, Professor Sir John Pendry and his group have generated a new class of material, a metamaterial, whose properties owe more to their carefully designed and constructed internal structure rather than their chemical composition. The condition is that the internal structure must be smaller than the wavelength of radiation at the operating frequency. Development of these metamaterials has enabled some remarkable effects to be demonstrated for the very first time, properties not found in nature, these include negative electrical permittivity, negative magnetic permeability and negative refractive index.
Applications for Metamaterials
Potential applications of this new class of material include optical lithography and data storage, telecommunications, solar energy harvesting, biological imaging and sensing, medical diagnostics, radar and communications technologies. Imperial researchers are at the fore-front of metamaterials research, bringing together expertise from a number of areas. Metamaterials research is carried out in the Faculties of Natural Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
Case Study: The Invisibility Cloak
A celebrated problem in the mathematics of electromagnetism is whether it is possible to cover an object with a layer of material such that an external observer could detect neither the object being hidden nor the cloaking material, using any external magnetic or electric probe. Find out more.
Case Study: The Perfect Lens
Metamaterial research has also generated the revolutionary theory of the perfect lens, which overturns conventional laws of physics governing the smallest object visible with light. Prior to the theory it was thought impossible to use light for imaging objects smaller than the wavelength of light. Find out more.