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Flexible Smart Material Cloaks Objects
Nov 2010
FIFE, Scotland, Nov. 5, 2010 — Using tiny atoms that can interact with light, researchers at the University of St. Andrews have developed a flexible new ‘smart’ material that could theoretically appear invisible to the naked eye.

It is the first practical breakthrough in the much-theorized area of physics – invisibility cloaking.

Metaflex membrane placed on a disposable contact lens and illuminated with office light. The inset is an enlargement of the membrane.

Although cloaks designed to shield objects from both terahertz and near infrared waves have already been designed, a flexible material designed to cloak objects from visible light poses a greater challenge because of visible light’s smaller wavelength and the need to make the metamaterial’s constituent part — meta-atoms — small enough to interact with visible light.

These tiny meta-atoms have been designed but they have only traditionally been realized on flat, hard surfaces, making them rigid constructs impractical for use in clothing or other possible applications that would benefit from flexibility, such as super lenses.

Handheld tweezers holding a typical Metaflex membrane.

The research team, led by EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow Dr. Andrea Di Falco, have developed an elaborate technique which frees the meta-atoms from the hard surface substrate they are constructed on. The researchers predict that stacking them together can create an independent, flexible material, which can be adopted for use in a wide range of applications.

“Metamaterials give us the ultimate handle on manipulating the behavior of light. The impact of our new material Meta-flex is ubiquitous,” said Falco. “It could be possible to use Meta-flex for creating smart fabrics placed on disposable contact lenses to create superlenses that could further enhance vision. Typical lenses generally have some form of limitation, such as aberration or limited resolution, but these perfect lenses would have none of these deficiencies.”

The research is published in the New Journal of Physics.

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A material engineered from artificial matter not found in nature. The artificial makeup and design of metamaterials give them intrinsic properties not common to conventional materials that are exploited as light waves and sound waves interact with them. One of the most active areas of research involving metamaterials currently explores materials with a negative refractive index. In optics, these negative refractive index materials show promise in the fabrication of lenses that can achieve...
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