Optical metamaterials have already produced the possibility of an invisibility cloak

Study to tease out the maths of metamaterials

A five year study will try to tease out the mathematical lessons learned from advances in optical metamaterials to apply them in other fields.

Research into using metamaterials – patterned composites of natural materials that have properties that may not be found in nature – in optics has already produced the possibility of an invisibility cloak.

To take these ideas further into allied areas of advanced materials £2.5m is being invested by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to allow scientists based at Imperial College London, the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University to work on the five year study.

The study will include input from both mathematics and physics and will attempt to apply the mathematical concepts of metamaterials to fields such as acoustics, thermal cloaking and to engineer designer metamaterials with specific properties.

Professor Richard Craster, project lead, Imperial College London, said: “This is an unusual and novel grant in metamaterials as it is centred around mathematical concepts and theory but nonetheless with considerable input from physics.

“The collaboration with our colleagues from the physics group, where metamaterials were originally developed, will provide unique insight and access to cutting edge ideas from physics that mathematicians can turn into solid rigorous theory. Conversely theoretical advances from mathematics can be fed directly and swiftly back into experiments and design.”

Being able to create thermal metamaterials could ultimately benefit laptop users by using thermal transfer to overcome the fact that computer chips become hot limiting the amount of transistors and computer power which can be put in a chip.

“If we can manage the power of maths to transfer this concept from electromagnetism to ultimately an equation system that describes the flow of heat then we have a very powerful application,” said Professor Stefan Maier, Imperial College London.

Metamaterials could provide a wide range of real-world applications where waves play a role, even potentially cloaking buildings from earthquakes. French collaborators on the project are already using cloaking principles in seismic wave systems to try and ‘hide’ buildings from ground vibrations caused, for example, by trains.

Using multi-scale elastic metamaterials, large complex structures such as bridges or tall buildings can be designed to withstand earthquakes, and their possible swaying can be controlled. Novel shields and filters of elastic waves can be designed to divert the energy of earthquakes away from buildings and protected areas.

Creating a so-called ‘perfect lens’ using metamaterials could be used in bio-imaging applications. A perfect lens would enable light microscopes to see objects smaller than a single wave-length of light, such as a single virus.

Currently only an electron microscope can image to this resolution with the drawback that cells need to be dead or frozen. A perfect lens created by metamaterials would allow scientists to break the so-called Rayleigh limit of diffraction.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: “Advanced materials is one of the eight great technologies of the future with the potential to propel UK growth. This investment will help us to develop further applications for metamaterials and reap the benefits of advanced materials for the wider UK economy.”

The researchers will also look at the constraints of fabrication methods and use sophisticated tools of mathematics to develop optimal structures. Computer codes that take imperfections into account in an efficient way will be developed to allow the modelling and design of metamaterials to proceed together.

By the end of the research, scientists will develop proof of concepts, which can then provide a sound basis for the next stage of implementation.

Recent articles

Info Message

Our sites use cookies to support some functionality, and to collect anonymous user data.

Learn more about IET cookies and how to control them