Optical materials go designer
AMES, Iowa – Advances in fabrication technologies could one
day lead to superlenses and other designer optical materials.
Scientists at Iowa State University and at Karlsruhe Institute
of Technology in Germany are studying exotic man-made materials designed to deliver
optical properties not found in nature. Their work appears in Science, Vol. 330,
No. 6011, pp. 1633-1634 (2010).
Unlike natural materials, metamaterials can refract light to the
left, or at a negative angle. This allows scientists to control light similar to
the way they use semiconductors to control electricity.
The discovery could allow scientists to use metamaterials to develop
a flat superlens that can operate in the visible light spectrum. Offering superior
resolution over conventional technology, the lens would be able to capture details
much smaller than one wavelength of light, which could result in the ability to
see inside a human cell or to observe DNA.
The challenges, however, will take additional research and development
to overcome. Because the structures must be tiny, they are difficult and expensive
to produce. Optical metamaterials also absorb light, which would make it difficult
to create metamaterial superlenses.
The scientists’ experiments have proved hopeful. They found
that optical metamaterials can operate within the visible light spectrum, that 3-D
optical metamaterials can be produced and that light loss in metamaterials can be
reduced. All three of these properties, when wrapped together into one new material,
could provide the qualities necessary for an ideal optical metamaterial suitable
for materials and biomedical applications.
- optical materials
- Materials that, by virtue of their optical characteristics (i.e. refractive index, dispersion, etc.), are used in optical elements. See crystal; glass; plastic lens.
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