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What Is a Metamaterial Antenna?

Andrew Kirmayer
Andrew Kirmayer

A metamaterial antenna is a very small and powerful antenna that can be manufactured onto the surface of a circuit board. It is composed of metamaterial, which is made up of microscopic elements that allow radio frequency waves to pass through at a higher efficiency than with traditional materials. Classified as a near-zero index material, it bends and reflects electromagnetic radiation perpendicular to the substrate. The antenna can be etched onto a circuit board using typical circuit materials and copper, so the manufacturing process is quick and inexpensive. Such small antennas can be included on any circuit board, and have been used in cell phones and various hand held devices.

This material enables antennas to bend radio frequency waves so that the efficiency is even higher than larger kinds of antennas. Most of the signal is radiated from the antenna, due to the high refractive index, or the capability of the material to direct radiation away, rather than reflect it back. A metamaterial antenna has a negative index of refraction, in contrast to substances such as glass or air. At a fraction of the size of wavelengths, metamaterials are composites that can be manufactured according to what kinds of capabilities are needed by the application. Miniaturized antenna systems are suited for wireless communications, because they support the high output and speed that many people and businesses rely on.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

These physical properties allow for a class of metamaterial antennas that are efficient, so cell phone won’t use as much power, for example. The space taken up on circuit boards is less than traditional antennas, so a metamaterial antenna can be placed on a smaller board and while allowing room for the various components needed by the device to function. Since the technology was researched and advanced beginning a little over a decade ago, millions of these antennas are on the market as of 2011 and production continues to grow.

Wireless communications is just one of the applications of metamaterial, such as the implementation of 4G communication systems for consumer and business based mobile devices. A metamaterial antenna can be used for emergency communications as well as radar used for geological purposes and to monitor activity in tunnels. Metamaterial deflects light and other signals differently than any other material found in nature. Scientists have speculated that, beyond use for a metamaterial antenna, it could be fabricated to create future lenses or coatings that make objects invisible.

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