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Metamaterial Flattens Bulky Optical Devices

Posted on: 06/14/2013
Ultra-thin, lightweight, broadband polarimetric photonic devices and optics could result from recent research by a team of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) scientists. Their work could impact security screening systems, infrared thermal cameras, energy harvesting, and radar systems.

This development is a key step toward replacing bulky conventional optics with flexible sheets that are about the thickness of a human hair and weighing a fraction of an ounce. The advance is in the design of artificially created materials, called metamaterials, that give scientists new levels of control over light wavelengths.

The LANL team demonstrated broadband, high-performance linear polarization conversion using ultrathin planar metamaterials, enabling possible applications in the terahertz (THz) frequency regime. Their design can be scaled to other frequency ranges from the microwave through infrared.

Metamaterial-based polarimetric devices are particularly attractive in the terahertz frequency range due to the lack of suitable natural materials for these applications. Currently available designs suffer from either very limited bandwidth or high losses. The Los Alamos designs also further enable the near-perfect realization of the generalized laws of reflection/refraction. According to the researchers, this can be exploited to make flat lenses, prisms, and other optical elements in a fashion very different from the curved, conventional designs that are now used.

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