The world of synthetic materials isn’t as new as people might thing. For ages scientists and engineers have toyed with synthetics in a variety of applications, hoping to improve technology and the world around us. But this newest leap might be the biggest — and most important — invention yet.
Duke University electrical engineers have come up with a remarkable way in which to create electromagnetic metamaterials. Metamaterials are materials that are synthetic in nature; all their components are typically engineered as well. Materials found in nature don’t play a big part in these unique designs. Metamaterials are particularly important for their ability to absorb electromagnetic energy without heating up; unfortunately, there’s one glaring issue with this design: the need for metal.
Conducting metals allow engineers to manipulate electromagnetic waves in a specific way, altering how the waves act as a whole. Unfortunately, metal as a rule heats up when conducting electricity. That severely limits their usefulness, particularly when the applications rely on very sensitive temperature control.
But it appears this problem may have been overcome once and for all. The engineers at Duke University have devised a dielectric electromagnetic metamaterial that doesn’t have any metal components. Instead its surface is covered with dimpled cylinders, which are designed to absorb terahertz waves. With a few modifications, this design can be used for electromagnetic waves of any frequency.
The focal factor of this designs is the metamaterial’s components. It was designed with boron-doped silicon, which performs much like the old metal components — minus the temperature changes, of course. This is a huge boon to devices that rely on temperature control to function properly, like thermal imaging. Another field that can benefit from this innovation is lighting; the new design means we could have lightbulbs that are powerful and efficient without worrying about them overheating.
The paper covering this new design was just published on January 9th, so it will be some time before commercialization is realistic. But until then, this new metamaterial has already made a big impression on the scientific community — no metal needed.