The Waves of the Future May Bend Around Metamaterials

Plastics. Computers. Metamaterials?

Eben Frankenberg and Tom Driscoll of Echodyne with a prototype radar in a test chamber. Credit Kyle Johnson for The New York Times

Eben Frankenberg and Tom Driscoll of Echodyne with a prototype radar in a test chamber.
Kyle Johnson for The New York Times

Almost half a century after Dustin Hoffman was taken aside in “The Graduate” and given the famous “one word” line about the future, it may be time to update the script again. And metamaterials appear to have the same potential to transform entire industries. Over the past 15 years or so, scientists have learned how to construct materials that bend light waves, as well as radar, radio, sound and even seismic waves, in ways that do not naturally occur.

First theorized in 1967 by the Russian physicist Victor Veselago and invented in 1999 by a group led by the physicist David R. Smith, the new design approach was first seen as a curiosity that hinted at science fiction applications like invisibility cloaks.

But today, researchers have gained a better understanding of the science and are generating innovations in an array of fields, including radio antennas, radar, cosmetics, soundproofing and walls that help protect against earthquakes and tsunamis.

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