Plasmonic metamaterials are promising for various advances, including a possible "hyperlens" that could make optical microscopes 10 times more powerful; advanced chemical sensors; new types of light-harvesting systems for more efficient solar cells; computers and consumer electronics that use light instead of electronic signals to process information; and a cloak of invisibility.
The metasurfaces can be combined with thin sheets of carbon called graphene.
"If you apply voltage the optical properties of graphene change, and if you couple a graphene layer with a metasurface, these properties then change dramatically," Kildishev said.
Metasurfaces could make it possible to use single photons the tiny particles that make up light for switching and routing in future computers. While using photons would dramatically speed up computers and telecommunications, conventional photonic devices cannot be miniaturized because the wavelength of light is too large to fit in tiny components needed for integrated circuits.
Nanostructured metamaterials, however, could make it possible to reduce the size of photons and the wavelength of light, allowing the creation of new types of nanophotonic devices, Shalaev said.
Some of the new materials may have applications involving near-infrared light, the range of the spectrum critical for telecommunications and fiberoptics.
Other materials also might work for light in the visible range of the spectrum.
Unlike natural materials, metamaterials may possess an index of refraction less than one or less than zero. Refraction occurs as electromagnetic waves, including light, bend when passing from one material into another. It causes the bent-stick-in-water effect, which occurs when a stick placed in a glass of water appears crooked when viewed from the outside. Being able to crea
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