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Metamaterial

a new generation of materials with extraordinary properties London,

A diagram showing white lines around a coloured sphere, indicating the path of light.
Trajectories of rays through and around a metamaterial producing the ‘invisibility cloak’. Rays avoid the cloaked region and return to their original path after traversing the cloak. Courtesy of Prof. John Pendry.

Metamaterials are artificially produced materials with properties not necessarily found in nature. They are composed of metals or plastics uniformly arranged at a microscopic level. It is their internal physical structure and not just their chemical composition which gives them their unusual properties. 

Physicist John Pendry (1943- ) was consulting for the Marconi Company in the 1990s, when they asked him to investigate some thin carbon fibres which were remarkably good at absorbing radar waves. Pendry showed that it was the structure of the fibres and not the fact that they were carbon that gave them this unexpected property. 

The papers that followed this discovery sparked huge interest in the field and has led to a range of new materials being developed. In 2000 Pendry, who is based at Imperial College London, pioneered the theory behind perfect lenses using negative refraction, in which light rays are refracted in the opposite way to that expected. An effect achieved through the structure of particular metamaterials. In 2006 Pendry applied metamaterials to an idea known as the ‘invisibility cloak’ where light is caused to bend around an object, forming a container and rendering it invisible.

Science Museum

Decade
Type
Physics, Chemistry,
Region
London
Location
Imperial College London
Key Individuals
John Pendry, Marconi Company,