Physicist developing, improving designer optical materials

Dec 16, 2010
Costas Soukoulis of Iowa State University and the Ames Laboratory is studying and developing metamaterials. The exotic, artificially created materials provide optical properties not found in natural materials. Credit: Photo by Ames Laboratory.

Advancements in fabrication technologies may lead to superlenses and other designer optical materials, according to an Iowa State University and Ames Laboratory physicist.

In an article titled "Improving Metamaterials" published in the Perspectives section of the Dec. 17 issue of the journal Science, Costas Soukoulis and Martin Wegener write about the man-made designed to deliver certain properties not found in nature.

Soukoulis is an Iowa State University Distinguished Professor and Frances M. Craig Professor of and Astronomy and a senior scientist for the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory who collaborates with the University of Crete in Greece and with the Institute of and Laser at the Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas, Greece. Wegener is the group leader for the Institute of Applied Physics at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Metamaterials, sometimes called left-handed materials, are exotic, artificially created materials that provide optical properties not found in natural materials. Metamaterials are able to refract light to the left, or at a negative angle. Natural materials can't do this.

"This backward-bending characteristic provides scientists the ability to control light similar to the way they use semiconductors to control electricity, which opens a wide range of potential applications," Soukoulis said.

One possibility is using metamaterials to develop a flat superlens that operates in the visible light spectrum.

"Such a lens would offer superior resolution over conventional technology, capturing details much smaller than one wavelength of light to vastly improve imaging for materials or biomedical applications," Soukoulis said. "A metamaterial superlens could give researchers the power to see inside a human cell or observe DNA."

The Science article by Soukoulis and Wegener describes the development of optical metamaterials from thin films to 3-D nanostructures. They also describe the challenges of further, practical development of the new materials.

"First, the structures must be tiny and are therefore difficult and expensive to produce," Soukoulis said. "Optical metamaterials also absorb light, making it difficult to create a metamaterial superlens."

But Soukoulis and Wegener offer some hope in their paper. They say experiments have demonstrated optical metamaterials can operate within the visible light spectrum, 3-D optical metamaterials can be produced and light loss in metamaterials can be reduced.

They wrote the ideal optical metamaterial requires all three properties. Wrapping them all into one new metamaterial will take more research and development. And then, researchers will need to find ways to reduce the cost of production.

But, wrote Soukoulis and Wegener, the introduction of advanced fabrication techniques to metamaterials research "may lead to realization of such designer materials."

Explore further: Engineers find a way to win in laser performance by losing

Related Stories

Negative Index Materials: From Theory to Reality

Jun 06, 2006

Kent State University researchers are leading a team of scientists from eight institutions, who have been awarded a $5.5 million Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) from the Air Force Office of Scientific ...

Metamaterials could reduce friction in nanomachines

Dec 07, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Nanoscale machines expected to have wide application in industry, energy, medicine and other fields may someday operate far more efficiently thanks to important theoretical discoveries concerning the manipulation ...

Artificial black holes made with metamaterials

Nov 16, 2010

While our direct knowledge of black holes in the universe is limited to what we can observe from thousands or millions of light years away, a team of Chinese physicists has proposed a simple way to design an artificial electromagnetic ...

Practical Cloaking Devices On The Horizon?

Aug 10, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Invisibility cloaks get a step closer to realization, with the demonstration of a new material that can bend (visible) light the 'wrong' way for the first time in three dimensions.

Recommended for you

Atomic trigger shatters mystery of how glass deforms

Oct 18, 2014

Throw a rock through a window made of silica glass, and the brittle, insulating oxide pane shatters. But whack a golf ball with a club made of metallic glass—a resilient conductor that looks like metal—and the glass not ...

Superconducting circuits, simplified

Oct 17, 2014

Computer chips with superconducting circuits—circuits with zero electrical resistance—would be 50 to 100 times as energy-efficient as today's chips, an attractive trait given the increasing power consumption ...

Protons hog the momentum in neutron-rich nuclei

Oct 16, 2014

Like dancers swirling on the dance floor with bystanders looking on, protons and neutrons that have briefly paired up in the nucleus have higher-average momentum, leaving less for non-paired nucleons. Using ...

Cosmic jets of young stars formed by magnetic fields

Oct 16, 2014

Astrophysical jets are counted among our Universe's most spectacular phenomena: From the centers of black holes, quasars, or protostars, these rays of matter sometimes protrude several light years into space. ...

User comments : 0