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Advantages of Metamaterials

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  • Juan Castellanos


The future is here and you wouldn’t believe how far research has come. Through countless experiments and hard work scientists have expanded the limits on what we thought to be impossible via advances in metamaterials. These so called “metamaterials” are artificially constructed improvements over naturally occurring materials commonly used in inventions. These metamaterials are altered at a Nanoscopic scale to give them new properties. Advances in the field of metamaterials could impact many aspects of life including: technology, medicine, and military combat.

To fully understand what metamaterials are, we need to completely understand how they work. Metamaterials are created on a small scale in order to manipulate or alter incoming waves, causing them to behave differently than they normally would. This can include light, mechanical, sound, or electromagnetic waves. Through the use of metamaterials you could conceivably “stretch the law of refraction to its limits because you could make light bend in any direction you liked”(Grant & Hapgood). For example, water has standard refraction, which produces a bent image since light travels throughwater at a different speed than it does throughair while “Metamaterials can make objects in waterappear to angle in the opposite direction, whichis known as negative refraction” (Clark). Metamaterials normally acquire their properties from structure rather than composition since they are engineered to have different properties than those found in nature.

Metamaterials are going to innovate the next wave of technological advances that could make life easier. For instance, metamaterials can have a major impact on the commercial market by making wireless charging a possibility, affecting millions around the world that are in constant need of a convenient method to charge their portable devices. According to Business Insider major companies such as Samsung, Hewlett-Packard and Panasonic have cited metamaterials in recent patent filings (Wagstaff). Furthermore, metamaterials could potentially keep families in touch by enabling access to the Internet in areas around the world where it is currently unavailable. This is achieved by “an antenna on a moving object, such as a plane or automobile, to a satellite, facilitating a constant connection” (Clark). This antenna generates a connection that enables satellite-connected Internet to exist anywhere in the world. In addition, Metamaterials can save lives and prevents catastrophes by being able to shield and redirect seismic waves away from buildings and other important structures. Researchers conducted an experiment in 2013 where seismic waves were artificially produced in soil and in the presence of metamaterials; probes determined there was a “modification in seismic energy distribution” (Brule, Javelaud, Enoch, Guenneau). The cloaking of seismic waves can be a bit more complex than say that of acoustic waves due to the nature of the medium (Sheng) but the benefits of such an advance could limit damage from natural disasters by protecting important structures such as power plants, residential buildings, and hospitals. Just in recent memory, seismic cloaking could have benefited Japan when their power plants were struck by a tsunami resulting in nuclear meltdowns and a 2010 earthquake crippled Haiti leaving millions of people devastated. These are just few examples of how metamaterials are revolutionizing the world we live in.

Secondly, the military is also investing in metamaterial research in order to gain an advantage on the battlefield. As previously mentioned, metamaterials are designed to have characteristics their counterparts would not normally have, a prominent example is the ability to “produce plastic metamaterials that are superconductors of electricity” (Scharrett, Garrison). Replacing electric conducting metals with plastic conductors would result in less electrical resistance and “large drops in electrical resistance translate directly into reduced thermal buildup and major increases in the meantime between failures of electrical components” (Scharrett, Garrison). Moreover, a naval research program is funding a prototype that bends sound around a submarine in order to make it invisible to enemy sonar through the use of metamaterials that can manipulate sound waves. In addition, Army is researching metamaterials to build biological and chemical detectors. These metallic nanostructures react electromagnetically to incoming molecules detecting single molecules that could be of great use for passenger or cargo screening (Hambling). The Holy Grail in all the research being poured in to metamaterials is the development of “invisibility cloaking”, the type we have only been able to imagine in movies and comic books. Duke University’s Yaroslav Urhumov says the U.S. Department of Defense is a “major sponsor of metamaterials and invisibility research and backing this up further is Miguel Navarro-Cia of Imperial College London who claims the military’s primary interest was in “making a cloak”(Wagstaff). Besides the obvious goal of being able to approach and attack enemies sight unseen, there are other possible functions for the military that could also be applied to civilian use such as “rendering parts of an aircraft invisible for pilots to see below the cockpit, or to rid drivers of the blind spot in a car” (Wagstaff). All these improvements and advances could potentially save casualties and be the difference between victory and defeat.

Perhaps the most important utilization of metamaterials will occur in the field of medicine where it can directly help treat and save millions of patients. As opposed to bending light waves in order to make something invisible, metamaterials could also potentially lead way to a super microscope that can view objects as small as a singular strand of DNA. As Discover magazine puts it, this could “turbo charge biological research” (Grant, Hapgood). Conventional optics are hindered by the refraction limit, only allowing objects to be viewed up to a certain resolution, meanwhile “metamaterials having negative refractive index is theorized to create a lens having better capabilities beyond conventional lenses. A British scientist, Sir John Pendry, proposed that a thin slab of negative metamaterial might overcome the problems with common lenses to achieve “a perfect lens” that would focus entire spectrum” (Pendry 3966). One of the biggest tools against cancer is early detection; the difference between life and death is often determined by the stage the cancer is discovered. “By developing microwave devices and combining it with structures inspired by metamaterials, it can lead to a very cost effective device that can localize with high precision an abnormality within the human body” (Raghavan, Rajeshkumar 368). Moreover, In the future metamaterials could “absorb all light, to create heat to destroy cancerous tissue” (Tufts University). The researchers at the Tufts University School of Engineering and Boston University concentrated on metamaterial silk composites that are resonant at the terahertz frequency. At this frequency many biological and chemical components could be possibly used for biosensing in the human body. According to this research “The silk metamaterial composite is sensitive to the dielectric properties of the silk substrate and can monitor the interaction between the silk and the local environment. For example, the metamaterial might signal changes in a bio-reactive silk substrate that has been doped with proteins or enzymes" (Tufts University). All these potential advances show how metamaterials will impact the medical field with great importance.

In conclusion, metamaterials can have a advantage over naturally occurring materials due to alterations made at a small scale that allow for manipulation of any incoming waves that come in to contact. Metamaterials have introduced a wide array of possibilities previously thought unreachable. The use of metamaterials will be widely used in different fields and will result in beneficial developments for humanity. Therefore, metamaterials will have an impact on the future of humanity and the perception of what we know.

Works Cited

Clark, Marjorie. "Metamaterials Are Quietly Shaping the Future of Radar - 425 Business." 425 Business. N.p., 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 05 Apr. 2015. <http://425business.com/metamaterials-quietly-shaping-future-radar/>.

Hambling, David. "5 Metamaterials That Make Matter Invisible, Silent or Blindingly Fast." Popular Mechanics. Hearst Digital Media, 05 Mar. 2010. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.

Luan, Pi-Gang. The Physics of Metamaterials. N.p.: National Central University, n.d. PDF.

"Metamaterials." Metamaterials. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2015. <http://www.iop.org/resources/topic/archive/metamaterials/>.

Tufts University. "Implantable silk metamaterials could advance biomedicine, biosensing." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 August 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100812135938.htm>.

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