Research into using metamaterials in optics has already produced the possibility of an invisibility cloak. To take these ideas further into allied areas of advanced materials £2.5 million is being invested by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Researchers will apply concepts to fields such as acoustic metamaterials, thermal cloaking and to engineer designer metamaterials with specific properties.
Leading UK scientists based at Imperial College London, the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University will work on the five year study, that is uniquely positioned to span, and take advantage of, both mathematics and physics.
Professor Richard Craster, project lead, Imperial College London, said: "This is an unusual and novel grant in metamaterials as it is centred around mathematical concepts and theory but nonetheless with considerable input from physics.
"The collaboration with our colleagues from the physics group, where metamaterials were originally developed, will provide unique insight and access to cutting edge ideas from physics that mathematicians can turn into solid rigorous theory. Conversely theoretical advances from mathematics can be fed directly and swiftly back into experiments and design."
Metamaterials have unusual properties not seen in natural materials, for example light entering a metamaterial slab can be bent in the opposite direction to that expected.
Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: "Advanced materials is one of the eight great technologies of the future with the potential to propel UK growth. This investment will help us to develop further applications for metamaterials and reap the benefits of advanced materials for the wider UK economy."
Extending the concepts into thermal metamaterials could ultimately benefit laptop users. Currently, for example, computer chips in laptops become hot, limiting the amount of transistors and computer power which can be put in a chip; thermal transfer could overcome this issue. "If we can manage the power of maths to transfer this concept from electromagnetism to ultimately an equation system that describes the flow of heat then we have a very powerful application," said Professor Stefan Maier, Imperial College London.
Metamaterials could provide a wide range of real-world applications where waves play a role, even potentially cloaking buildings from earthquakes. French collaborators on the project are already using cloaking principles in seismic wave systems to try and 'hide' buildings from ground vibrations caused, for example, by trains. Using multi-scale elastic metamaterials, large complex structures such as bridges or tall buildings can be designed to withstand earthquakes, and their possible swaying can be controlled. Novel shields and filters of elastic waves can be designed to divert the energy of earthquakes away from buildings and protected areas.
Creating a so-called 'perfect lens' using metamaterials could be used in bio-imaging applications. A perfect lens would enable light microscopes to see objects smaller than a single wave-length of light, such as a single virus. Currently only an electron microscope can image to this resolution with the drawback that cells need to be dead or frozen. A perfect lens created by metamaterials would allow scientists to break the so-called Rayleigh limit of diffraction.
The researchers will also look at the constraints of fabrication methods and use sophisticated tools of mathematics to develop optimal structures. Computer codes that take imperfections into account in an efficient way will be developed to allow the modelling and design of metamaterials to proceed together.
By the end of the research, scientists will develop proof of concepts, which can then provide a sound basis for the next stage of implementation.
Notes to editors:
For media enquiries and image requests contact the EPSRC Press Office,
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Image: Multi-storey building with multi-scale resonators. Flexural vibrations of lateral walls shown in (e) and (f) have been suppressed as shown in (a)-(d) using built-in multi-scale resonators. Credit: Professor Movchan, University of Liverpool
Image 2 and 3: Invisibility cloak for a square inclusion Credit: Professor Movchan, University of Liverpool
About Imperial College London
Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.
In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible. Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk
About the University of Liverpool
The University of Liverpool is one of the UK's leading research institutions with an annual turnover of £452 million, including £124 million for research. Liverpool is ranked in the top 1% of higher education institutions worldwide and is a member of the Russell Group. Visit http://www.liv.ac.uk or follow us on twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/livuninews
About Liverpool John Moores
Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) has over 180 years' experience educating students in a wide range of disciplines, spanning the arts, humanities, education, health, science and technology. This modern civic University has its origins in the Liverpool Mechanics' Institute founded in 1825. It offers a diverse range of undergraduate degrees, postgraduate taught programmes and research opportunities. Around 75% of LJMU's research is rated as internationally important and we are one of the top performing new universities in the UK for Architecture and Built Environment, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, General Engineering, Physics and Sports-Related Studies. LJMU emphasises interaction with business and the community. We are currently ranked in the top 40 UK universities for staff and graduate start-up companies and in the top 20 for spin-off companies. Website: http://www.ljmu.ac.uk
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
(EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. http://www.epsrc.ac.uk
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