Metamaterials Extend Photonics

As metamaterials move out of the lab, their unusual characteristics could enable enhanced performance in applications from optical switching to polarization measurement.

Metamaterials — engineered to have unique photonic and other properties — can enable previously difficult or impossible-to-achieve performance. Radar or lidar steering, for instance, can be achieved inexpensively without moving parts. Glasses for augmented or virtual reality can direct light into the eye for viewing synthetic images. Optical signals can be switched faster, and important optical parameters such as polarization can be measured more simply and could benefit from these materials.

To continue turning such possibilities into commercial realities, vendors and researchers must overcome difficulties associated with understanding, designing, and making these materials. In a sign of progress, industry is now shipping metamaterial products, while academic researchers are pushing the field’s boundaries.

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