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  • New Metamaterials Center to Focus on Solar Energy, Sensors
Apr 2011
NEW YORK, April 15, 2011 — A new industry and university cooperative research center proposes to provide a one-stop shop for the design, fabrication and testing of a wide range of metamaterials designed to aid solar photovoltaic systems, specialized light sensors and more.

"Metamaterials have capabilities beyond normal materials," said David Crouse, director of the new Center for Metamaterials and associate professor at The City College of New York (CCNY). "The best-known examples are cloaking devices that allow light to wrap around an object, creating the perception of invisibility. Numerous other examples can be found in renewable energy and sensors."

Researchers at the National Science Foundation-sponsored center will focus on fundamental research concepts that are limiting the application and implementation of metamaterials to commercial products. For example, by controlling the composition of a material, it may be possible to produce superlenses with near-perfect resolution.

The center's research thrusts will encompass fundamental metamaterials research, including the following:

•materials for rapid prototyping,
•metamaterials building blocks,
•all-dielectric resonator metamaterials,
•development of modeling and design algorithms,
•process development of composite materials,
•aperture and cavity arrays,
•tools for characterization of metamaterials,
•next-generation metallic resonator metamaterials, and
•high-, zero-, and negative-refractive-index materials.

Industry and university cooperative research centers conduct fundamental research. The companies that participate in the center direct the research and receive royalty-free, nonexclusive licenses to the intellectual property the center produces.

Crouse also serves as director of the City University of New York’s Center for Advanced Technology (CUNY-CAT), which conducts research leading to product commercialization. The three other institutions in the Center for Metamaterials have programs similar to CUNY-CAT.

"We want the Center for Metamaterials to be a feeder for concepts and projects that graduate into more applied development with our CAT program and the other organizations, eventually leading to commercialization and economic impact," Crouse said.

Crouse's metamaterials research laboratory at CCNY performs numerous applied metamaterials research and development projects. He also conducts research for Phoebus Optoelectronics, a metamaterials company he co-founded.

While the new center’s research will be on fundamental concepts, the thrusts at Crouse's laboratory and at Phoebus are applied research and the development of metamaterials devices with high commercialization potential.

Two areas of particular interest to him are renewable energy and sensors. "The typical solar cell has low efficiency, but we can do things to improve their efficiency or lower their cost to make them more competitive with fossil fuels," Crouse said.

Placing thin metamaterial films over silicon panels would allow solar light to pass through to silicon surfaces unblocked. The same film would capture the electricity produced by those surfaces, possibly raising the efficiency of terrestrial solar cells from 17 to 21 percent, he said. Because the film would spread light laterally across the cell, thinner silicon wafers could be used, which would reduce costs.

The sensor projects, being conducted with NASA and DARPA, aim to produce lightweight polar image metric sensors capable of measuring light's intensity, color and polarization or orientation. "If you can see the orientation of light, you can detect many properties of an object," Crouse said. "For example, NASA scientists could detect and analyze the chemical composition of different kinds of pollutants."

In addition to CUNY, institutions participating in the new center include Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C.; the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; and Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y. At least 15 corporations, including Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Corning and Goodrich, also will become members of the center, which has NSF funding for five years. First-year support is expected to be around $740,000.

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