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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How Metamaterials Could Change the World 04-30

How Metamaterials Could Change the World

The future of global security and long-range charging innovations may lay in something a million times smaller than your fingernail.
These nanoparticles, synthetically generated in some of the world’s most prestigious laboratories, are bonded together by the billions in specialized configurations to create metamaterials: Cheap, durable, and unusually versatile substances that have potential to radically change the way we interact with the physical world.
Natural materials tend to interact with electromagnetic waves in very predictable ways—metal reflects light, glass lets light shine through it— allowing us to see them in physical forms. But with synthetic metamaterials, scientists are able to manipulate electromagnetic waves in unusual ways to protect individuals and advance existing electronic technologies.
"With the advent of nanotechnology, literally every week or every month, the capability of metamaterials becomes better and better,” Nader Engheta, a professor and metamaterials expert at the University of Pennsylvania, said.
The tangible applications are proving to be exceptionally promising—even determining life or death situations.
Scientists at Stanford University are using metamaterials to develop something of a real-life invisibility cloak, a contraption once relegated to the whimsical imagination of J.K. Rowling. Researchers are convinced that such a shield could help to protect soldiers fighting in combat zones.
The shield made of carefully configured metamaterials is designed to allow soldiers to move discreetly in combat without being seen across enemy lines. While the technology does not yet ensure perfect invisibility, it steers light around the shield, as opposed to absorbing and reflecting the light. As such, the human eye is unable to see it.
The implications for this optical phenomenon are much bigger than high-headed theoreticals. For example, researchers at Duke University are working on a metamaterial superlens to skirt the rules of physics and charge electric devices without a direct connection. Such an innovation would completely revolutionize the way that we approach mobility – imagine, say, if you never had to worry about charging your phone.
In fact, the quest to create smaller, more far-reaching antennas may rely on our ability to develop metamaterials, Engheta said. “We are always sending and receiving electromagnetic waves. Look at your cell phone, your iPhone, your computer—you have antennae there, you have to connect them wirelessly. Antennae are everywhere.”
Long-range wireless charging also could have a massive impact on the way that companies like Emerson find solutions to power issues for industrial operations.
"Metamaterials will potentially allow us to do many new things with light, things we don’t even know about yet. I can’t even imagine what all the applications might be," Stanford postdoctoral fellow Aitzol Garcia said in an article. “This is a new tool kit to do things that have never been done before.”
The trajectory of metamaterial innovation from laboratory to practical use will likely hinge on federal grants and private technology investment.
The Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and other federal agencies remain increasingly interested in funding metamaterials, said Engheta. While he is confident that metamaterials, due to their wave-bending properties, will find industry success, Engheta remains unsure of when we will see their widespread adoption.
“We are all hopeful, but the future will tell,” he said.

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