Metamaterials are an innovative new breed of artificial material, designed to have special properties which are not found anywhere else in nature.
Here, we’ll take a close look at these amazing materials and see how they are helping engineers to take steps towards achieving revolutionary feats, such as invisibility.
For generations, the concept of invisibility has captivated the human imagination and has been a common feature in works of science fiction and, of course, Harry Potter too.
In recent years, scientists and engineers have made great headway in developing so-called invisibility cloaks, which (as the name suggests) are capable of cloaking objects so that they are no longer visible.
In order to be truly invisible an object must accomplish two things. Firstly, it has to be able to bend light around itself, such that it casts no shadow, and secondly it must produce no reflection. Hence, developing materials capable of cloaking objects so they appear invisible will depend on our ability to manipulate light.
In order to achieve this rather impressive feat, scientists have been developing special materials, known as metamaterials, which are specially engineered to have properties that do not occur naturally.
These metamaterials have a variety of special properties; for example, they are able to interact with light and sound in unusual ways. Some of these even have the ability to bend electromagnetic radiation such as light around an object, making it appear as if the object isn’t even there!
The tiny structures that make up metamaterials are arranged in complex geometric patterns, in which the spacing between elements is smaller than the wavelength of light. Thanks to this design, they are capable of guiding light around an object, much in the same way that a rock diverts water in a stream. These materials are also capable of bending light backwards in a process known as negative refraction.
Early metamaterials were only capable of interfering with long wavelength radiation, such as microwaves.
Whilst metamaterials capable of fully cloaking objects on the visible spectrum have yet to be developed, we are now closer than ever to seeing this achieved, and some have even claimed that invisibility cloaks will be a reality in our lifetime.
It will be interesting to see what further exciting developments will be made using metamaterials in the years ahead, and also how this will impact on the field of engineering.
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