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Metamaterials: Material Properties by Design

By Dick Weisinger

Metamaterials are materials that exhibit mechanical, electrical, and optical properties not normally found in nature. They are able to do this by artificially manipulating the atomic material structure rather of the material chemistry. Developments in nanotechnology and fabrication methods which control individual atom and molecule placement are making it possible to create a wide range of different metamaterials. The unusual capabilities are more a function of the shape and geometric structure of the metamaterial rather than the chemical composition of the material used to build it.

Metamaterials are finding applications in optical filters, radar, medical devices, aerospace, sensors, and antennas. The global metamaterials market is expected to grow to more than $1.35 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research.

Jonathan Fan, recipient of a 2016 Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering, said that “metamaterials are promising for a couple reasons. First, they enable extreme miniaturization… This allows us to translate traditionally bulky systems to extremely small form factors. Second, they can be customized to support novel properties that currently are not accessible with existing hardware and systems.”

One area of metadata research are materials that respond to force and compression.

Jun Gong, a research scientist at Apple, said that “metamaterials can support different mechanical functionalities. But if we create a metamaterial door handle, can we also know that the door handle is being rotated, and if so, by how many degrees? If you have special sensing requirements, our work enables you to customize the metamaterial mechanism to meet your needs.”

Gong and his team at MIT created a 3D-Printer that enabled rapid prototyping of new metamaterials. The behavior of the object composed of variable metamaterial could be controlled by modifying the parameters used for printing the material, and the properties change based on the section of the object printed.

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