Metamaterials and Functional Surfaces

Light and Heat Manipulation via Intelligent Design

Controlling light, electricity and heat have played key roles in technological advancements throughout human history. Advances in electrical and electromagnetic technologies, wireless communications, lasers, and computers have all been made possible by challenging our understanding of how light and other energy forms naturally behave, and how it is possible to manipulate them.

Over the past 20 years, techniques for producing nanostructures have matured, resulting in a wide range of ground-breaking solutions that can control light and heat on very small scales. Some of the areas of advancement that have contributed to these techniques are photonic crystals, nanolithography, plasmonic phenomena and nanoparticle manipulation. From these advances, a new branch of material science has emerged – metamaterials.

At META, we design and fabricate metamaterials and other functional materials. These are complex structures patterned in ways that perform a special function, such as transparently blocking a specific color of light, or invisibly heating a window in a car. These functions more generally include manipulating light, heat and electromagnetic waves in unusual ways.

What Exactly are Metamaterials?

Meta: from the Greek word μετα – “to go beyond”. As in beyond natural materials.

Metamaterials are a subset of functional materials. They are composite structures, consisting of conventional materials such as metals and plastics, that are engineered by META scientists to exhibit new or enhanced properties. They typically consist of a multitude of structured individual elements, referred to as meta-atoms. These meta-atoms are of the same size-scale as that of the electronic circuitry in a computer chip and much smaller than conventional optical elements, such as lenses and prisms. Whereas nature uses atoms to build materials, we use metallic, semiconductor, and insulating nanostructures as our building blocks to construct metamaterials. Given the almost infinite number of possible nanostructures that are available, we have an extreme design flexibility.

How Metamaterials and Functional Surfaces Work

Development strategies for metamaterials and functional materials focus on structures that produce unusual and exotic electromagnetic properties by manipulating light and radio waves in ways that has never been naturally possible. They gain their properties not as much from their raw material composition as from their exactingly-designed structures. The precise shape, geometry, size, orientation, and arrangement of these nanostructures affect the electromagnetic waves of light to create material properties that are not easily achievable with natural materials.