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What Are the Different Applications of Metamaterials?

Metamaterials, with their extraordinary ability to manipulate electromagnetic waves, are revolutionizing industries. From cloaking devices in defense to improving MRI imaging in healthcare, these engineered marvels are opening doors to unprecedented technological advancements. They're even enhancing solar panel efficiency, leading to greener energy solutions. Imagine the possibilities as we harness these materials to reshape our world. What innovations could they bring to your life?
Andrew Kirmayer
Andrew Kirmayer

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.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

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.

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Discussion Comments


There is significant evidence supporting the relatively widespread use of a "cloaking" system on vehicles and personnel. A system requiring electrical power has been in use for some time. Many believe one such device was caught on camera and released in an aljazeera broadcast where a cloaked man runs to a U.S. Tank and climbs aboard. I'm inclined to agree but we live in an age where even video evidence is easily corrupted. What's more fascinating is the Canada based company under contract with U.S. Intelligence linked entities that claims to be able to produce passive cloaking materials with no power requirements that cost less then 100 dollars to outfit one soldier. This is our Manhattan Project: an army of invisible men. In an age of ethical warfare, you don't drop "the bomb" when you can drop anyone anywhere at anytime.


@David09 - I don’t know anything about invisibility cloaks, but to me the possibility of using metamaterials for antennas is fascinating.

I would be able to utilize a smaller antenna for my home theater system. What this means basically is that I don’t need to have that long metal antenna that I currently have, and I don’t need additional wiring to enable it to pick up more distant signals.

If these metamaterials can bend and play with radio waves in the same way that they can with light, then I imagine that they could magnify even the most distant signals, all the while remaining comparatively small. To me, that’s a big selling point in and of itself.


@David09 - I am fascinated by the possibility of any technology that uses light instead of simple things like copper wire or even silicon chips.

In my mind’s eye, I see metamaterials evolving to the point where they could build supercomputers that could fit on the head of a pin, using light to payload the information.

I don’t know exactly how it would work, but the article seems to suggest that such a possibility may be around the corner. Miniaturization of electronic components appears to know no boundaries.


I remember watching a TV show once that talked about an invisibility cloak using metamaterials. This technology has been used out on the military battlefield.

They put a big object made of metamaterial – it looks like a mirror from a distance – in front of the tank. When you look through the object, you can’t see the tank. You see the desert.

I used to think that this was the stuff of science fiction, but they are already now doing research with it. I don’t know if it’s being implemented on a large scale out on the battlefield; I’d think that technology should be refined a little more before being widely deployed.

But the possibilities are endless, I think, for winning military conflicts and reducing human bloodshed.

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