Metamaterials are laboratory-made materials that can bend electromagnetic waves unlike any other substance found in nature. On aspect of them is that such materials can bend beams of light in the opposite direction, a property known as negative index of refraction. As different types of metamaterials are created with the aid of computers to simulate and build the nanoscale structure, more applications of metamaterials are realized. They can be used to make miniaturized antennas and communications systems; precise imaging systems in manufacturing, defense, and medicine; as well as being used in military and space applications. Metamaterial cloaking has also been theorized to bend the light around an object to make it invisible.
The concept of these materials is based on electromagnetic waves being affected by interactions with atoms and molecules in nature. On a sub-microscopic scale, specific materials can be altered to affect the behavior of these waves until they act in a way they normally do not. Objects a fraction the size of a light wavelength have been created, making it possible to manipulate electromagnetic waves in a variety of applications. One of the applications of metamaterials is their use in antennas which can be etched onto circuit boards and take up very little space. Miniature devices that utilize antennas are therefore possible, as well as smaller circuits that control broadband frequencies and phase shifting in electronics.
Metamaterials can also be used in imaging systems that operate at resolutions greater than the limits of light wavelength size. The applications of metamaterials in these instances range from increasing the density of small electronic components to precise medical imaging systems as well as inspection devices for manufacturing. Meta-surfaces constructed of electromagnetic wave altering materials are organized so the small-scale geometry affects how the waves move. The substances that they are constructed with don’t have as much of an impact.
Antenna systems and communications electronics in satellites can incorporate metamaterials as well. The payload size is minimized, making it easier to launch a smaller satellite, and less expensive to design and build it. Applications of metamaterials also include smaller security equipment and devices used by the military. Scientists have even applied metamaterials to the theory of cloaking, or bending light so that an object becomes invisible. So far, as of 2011, engineers have been able to cloak one wavelength at a time, but have theorized on applications of metamaterials for improving the performance of wireless devices, memory storage, and optical lenses.