18 July 2012

Irony of eco-metamaterials

Eco-metamaterials engineered by optics and photonics researchers can lighten our environmental footprint and just may be -- ironically -- more sustainable than materials found in nature.

So say Nerac analysts Rosemarie Szostak and Michael Kapralos in their article in the July 2012 issue of SPIE Professional magazine.

Metamaterials combine micro or nano structural features instead of relying on composition alone to achieve the desired properties. They have sparked the imagination of the optics and photonics community with their unusual characteristics, and researchers are developing unique metamaterials for their potential as invisibility cloaks, high-efficiency photovoltaics, super-antennas, and ultrabright LEDs.

Eco-metamaterials may not yet be "green" based on their composition. However, the reduced quantities of materials, especially toxic ones, used in their development and metamaterials’ inherent potential for exotic properties allow technologists to improve outcomes well beyond what is found in nature.

The Nerac analysts discuss how developers are "right sizing" their products with metamaterials and taking advantage of metamaterials' inherently small sizes. 

One potentially sustainable advancement in metamaterials that they discuss is with lasers. "The ability to tailor structure and locate elements in precise arrangements in metamaterials may lie in the exactness afforded by laser technology," they say.

Bolstered by research done at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States, the National Institute for Laser, Plasma and Radiation Physics in Romania, and labs elsewhere, lasers have been shown to be effective in depositing thin films of elements, creating nanostructures efficiently.

Since lasing usually exacts a high energy cost, laser researchers are now pushing the scale of lasers to new lows (nano) while maintaining or improving power. At University of California, San Diego, California, for instance, lasers are being downsized so that they require very little power to operate. The small size and extremely low power of these nanolasers have the potential to revolutionize future optical circuits and allow metamaterial manufacturers to produce better, cheaper, and smaller energy-footprint components, a much more sustainable manufacturing process.

The SPIE Professional article also discusses work conducted at ARPA-E (the U.S. Department of Energy's innovation arm) on constructing nanomagnet assemblages with soft and hard magnetic components that use less neodymium, or none at all, yet maintain the strength and permanence of a traditional neo-magnet.

Metamaterials conference in San Diego

Metamaterials will be the subject of a symposium-wide plenary talk and a full conference at SPIE Optics and Photonics, 12-16 August in San Diego. Nearly 100 technical presentations are scheduled for the Metamaterials: Fundamentals and Applications conference within the NanoScience and Engineering symposium.

SPIE Fellow Allan Boardman of University of Salford will chair the conference, which will cover nanoantennas, cloaking, and related topics such as:
  • Nonlinear metamaterials
  • Plasmonic metamaterials
  • Magnetic metamaterials
  • Metamaterial absorbers
  • Chiral metamaterials
  • Active and tunable metamaterials
At the symposium-wide plenary session on 12 August, Vladimir Shalaev, scientific director for nanophotonics at Purdue University, will review this growing field in a talk titled “The Exciting Science of Light with Metamaterials.” Shalaev, an SPIE Fellow, will also discuss recent developments in such areas as tunable metamaterials, artificial optical magnetism, and nanolasers.

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