Scientists Develop ‘Magical’ Metamaterial for a Perfect Lens

Scientists at Michigan Technological University have developed a ‘magic’ metamaterial that could be used to build a perfect lens – a lens that would permit seeing with the naked eye microscopic details that today can be seen only with powerful microscopes.

A superlens would let you see a virus in a drop of blood and open the door to better and cheaper electronics. It might, says lead researcher Durdu Güney, make ultra-high-resolution microscopes as commonplace as cameras in our cell phones.

The research is published in Physical Review Letters with the title “Plasmon Injection to Compensate and Control Losses in Negative Index Metamaterials.” A preliminary version of the paper is freely available online at the preprint server arXiv.

A Metamaterial Engineered to See the Microscopic World with the Naked Eye

Bacteria“Metamaterials have introduced a whole new world of unusual materials with functionalities that cannot be attained in naturally occurring material systems by mimicking and controlling the natural phenomena at subwavelength scales,” say the researchers. “These findings open the possibility of reviving the early dreams of making ‘magical’ metamaterials from scratch.”

Metamaterials are materials engineered to have new properties useful for specific applications. Metamaterials can be built with conventional base materials arranged in repeating patterns at microscopic or smaller scales, and derive their properties not from the properties of the base materials, but from their designed structure. The metamaterial used by the Michigan Tech researchers, a thin silver film engineered to interact with light waves in new ways, is a ‘negative index’ metamaterial that doesn’t just pass through propagating light waves but also amplifies decaying light waves.

“In order for the perfect lens to work, you have to satisfy a lot of electromagnetic constraints,” explained Güney. “We don’t know how exactly the required optical modes [light waves in the material] need to be excited and protected in the lens for the perfect construction of an image.”

In their coherent optical amplification technique to compensate losses in metamaterials with a “plasmon-injection” scheme, knowing which light wave crumbles as it passes through the negative index lens, the researchers are able to engineer a “sacrificial wave” that shields the desired light wave, allowing it to pass through.

“Imaging is one of the key technologies for this work,” said Güney, adding that a perfect lens could make science and medicine real for people.

It will make life easier to understand because people will be able to see it with their own eyes.

Images from Michigan Technological University and Pixabay.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.