David Kirkpatrick

August 4, 2010

Invisibility cloak update

It’s been several months since I’ve come across any news on invisibility cloak technology, something of a pet subject around here, but here’s the very latest — findings on transformation optics.

From the second link, the release:

New findings promising for ‘transformation optics,’ cloaking

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Researchers have overcome a fundamental obstacle in using new “metamaterials” for radical advances in optical technologies, including ultra-powerful microscopes and computers and a possible invisibility cloak.

The metamaterials have been plagued by a major limitation: too much light is “lost,” or absorbed by metals such as silver and gold contained in the metamaterials, making them impractical for optical devices.

However, a Purdue University team has solved this hurdle, culminating three years of research based at the Birck Nanotechnology Center at the university’s Discovery Park.

“This finding is fundamental to the whole field of metamaterials,” said Vladimir M. Shalaev, Purdue’s Robert and Anne Burnett Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We showed that, in principle, it’s feasible to conquer losses and develop these materials for many applications.”

Research findings are detailed in a paper appearing on Aug. 5 in the journal Nature.

The material developed by Purdue researchers is made of a fishnet-like film containing holes about 100 nanometers in diameter and repeating layers of silver and aluminum oxide. The researchers etched away a portion of the aluminum oxide between silver layers and replaced it with a “gain medium” formed by a colored dye that can amplify light.

Other researchers have applied various gain media to the top of the fishnet film, but that approach does not produce sufficient amplification to overcome losses, Shalaev said.

Instead, the Purdue team found a way to place the dye between the two fishnet layers of silver, where the “local field” of light is far stronger than on the surface of the film, causing the gain medium to work 50 times more efficiently.

The approach was first developed by former Purdue doctoral student Hsiao-Kuan Yuan, now at Intel Corp., and it was further developed and applied by doctoral student Shumin Xiao.

Unlike natural materials, metamaterials are able to reduce the “index of refraction” to 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 bent when viewed from the outside.

Being able to create materials with an index of refraction that’s negative or between one and zero promises a range of potential breakthroughs in a new field called transformation optics. Possible applications include a “planar hyperlens” that could make optical microscopes 10 times more powerful and able to see objects as small as DNA; advanced sensors; new types of “light concentrators” for more efficient solar collectors; computers and consumer electronics that use light instead of electronic signals to process information; and a cloak of invisibility.

Excitement about metamaterials has been tempered by the fact that too much light is absorbed by the materials. However, the new approach can dramatically reduce the “absorption coefficient,” or how much light and energy is lost, and might amplify the incident light so that the metamaterial becomes “active,” Shalaev said.

“What’s really important is that the absorption coefficient can be as small as only one-millionth of what it was before using our approach,” Shalaev said. “We can even have amplification of light instead of its absorption. Here, for the first time, we showed that metamaterials can have a negative refractive index and amplify light.”

The Nature paper was written by Xiao, senior research scientist Vladimir P. Drachev, principal research scientist Alexander V. Kildishev, doctoral student Xingjie Ni, postdoctoral fellow Uday K. Chettiar, Yuan, and Shalaev.

Fabricating the material was a major challenge, Shalaev said.

First, the researchers had to learn how to precisely remove as much as possible of the aluminum oxide layer in order to vacate space for dye without causing a collapse of the structure.

“You remove it almost completely but leave a little bit to act as pillars to support the structure, and then you spin coat the dye-doped polymer inside the structure,” he said.

The researchers also had to devise a way to deposit just the right amount of dye mixed with an epoxy between the silver layers of the perforated film.

“You can’t deposit too much dye and epoxy, which have a positive refractive index, but only a thin layer about 50 nanometers thick, or you lose the negative refraction,” Shalaev said.

Future work may involve creating a technology that uses an electrical source instead of a light source, like semiconductor lasers now in use, which would make them more practical for computer and electronics applications.

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The work was funded by the U.S. Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation.

Hit this link for the related image (it’s just too big for this blog and I didn’t feel like doing any resizing), and here’s the accompanying caption for the image:

This illustration shows the structure of a new device created by Purdue researchers to overcome a fundamental obstacle in using new “metamaterials” for radical advances in optical technologies, including ultrapowerful microscopes and computers and a possible invisibility cloak. The material developed by the researchers is a perforated, fishnet-like film made of repeating layers of silver and aluminum oxide. The researchers etched away a portion of the aluminum oxide between silver layers and replaced it with a “gain medium” to amplify light. (Birck Nanotechnology Center, Purdue University)

May 22, 2009

The latest in cloaking tech

I’ve done plenty of blogging on invisibility cloaking technology. Here’s a release from yesterday on the very latest news. It does seem we’re getting pretty close to an actual invisibility cloak. Science fiction becomes science fact once again.

The release:

New ‘broadband’ cloaking technology simple to manufacture

IMAGE: This image shows the design of a new type of invisibility cloak that is simpler than previous designs and works for all colors of the visible spectrum, making it possible…

Click here for more information. 

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Researchers have created a new type of invisibility cloak that is simpler than previous designs and works for all colors of the visible spectrum, making it possible to cloak larger objects than before and possibly leading to practical applications in “transformation optics.”

Whereas previous cloaking designs have used exotic “metamaterials,” which require complex nanofabrication, the new design is a far simpler device based on a “tapered optical waveguide,” said Vladimir Shalaev, Purdue University’s Robert and Anne Burnett Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Waveguides represent established technology – including fiber optics – used in communications and other commercial applications.

The research team used their specially tapered waveguide to cloak an area 100 times larger than the wavelengths of light shined by a laser into the device, an unprecedented achievement. Previous experiments with metamaterials have been limited to cloaking regions only a few times larger than the wavelengths of visible light.

Because the new method enabled the researchers to dramatically increase the cloaked area, the technology offers hope of cloaking larger objects, Shalaev said.

Findings are detailed in a research paper appearing May 29 in the journal Physical Review Letters. The paper was written by Igor I. Smolyaninov, a principal electronic engineer at BAE Systems in Washington, D.C.; Vera N. Smolyaninova, an assistant professor of physics at Towson University in Maryland; Alexander Kildishev, a principal research scientist at Purdue’s Birck Nanotechnology Center; and Shalaev.

“All previous attempts at optical cloaking have involved very complicated nanofabrication of metamaterials containing many elements, which makes it very difficult to cloak large objects,” Shalaev said. “Here, we showed that if a waveguide is tapered properly it acts like a sophisticated nanostructured material.”

The waveguide is inherently broadband, meaning it could be used to cloak the full range of the visible light spectrum. Unlike metamaterials, which contain many light-absorbing metal components, only a small portion of the new design contains metal.

Theoretical work for the design was led by Purdue, with BAE Systems leading work to fabricate the device, which is formed by two gold-coated surfaces, one a curved lens and the other a flat sheet. The researchers cloaked an object about 50 microns in diameter, or roughly the width of a human hair, in the center of the waveguide.

“Instead of being reflected as normally would happen, the light flows around the object and shows up on the other side, like water flowing around a stone,” Shalaev said.

The research falls within a new field called transformation optics, which may usher in a host of radical advances, including cloaking; powerful “hyperlenses” resulting in microscopes 10 times more powerful than today’s and able to see objects as small as DNA; computers and consumer electronics that use light instead of electronic signals to process information; advanced sensors; and more efficient solar collectors.

Unlike natural materials, metamaterials are able to reduce the “index of refraction” to 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 bent when viewed from the outside. Each material has its own refraction index, which describes how much light will bend in that particular material and defines how much the speed of light slows down while passing through a material.

Natural materials typically have refractive indices greater than one. Metamaterials, however, can be designed to make the index of refraction vary from zero to one, which is needed for cloaking.

The precisely tapered shape of the new waveguide alters the refractive index in the same way as metamaterials, gradually increasing the index from zero to 1 along the curved surface of the lens, Shalaev said.

Previous cloaking devices have been able to cloak only a single frequency of light, meaning many nested devices would be needed to render an object invisible.

Kildishev reasoned that the same nesting effect might be mimicked with the waveguide design. Subsequent experiments and theoretical modeling proved the concept correct.

Researchers do not know of any fundamental limit to the size of objects that could be cloaked, but additional work will be needed to further develop the technique.

Recent cloaking findings reported by researchers at other institutions have concentrated on a technique that camouflages features against a background. This work, which uses metamaterials, is akin to rendering bumps on a carpet invisible by allowing them to blend in with the carpet, whereas the Purdue-based work concentrates on enabling light to flow around an object.

 

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Related Web site:

Vladimir Shalaev:
https://engineering.purdue.edu/ECE/People/profile?resource_id=3322

IMAGE CAPTION:

This image shows the design of a new type of invisibility cloak that is simpler than previous designs and works for all colors of the visible spectrum, making it possible to cloak larger objects than before and possibly leading to practical applications in “transformation optics.” (Purdue University)

A publication-quality image is available at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2009/shalaev-cloaking.jpg

Abstract on the research in this release is available at: http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2009a/090520ShalaevCloaking.html

October 17, 2008

Transformation optics promise big payoff

It’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged on the possibility of a “cloak of invisibility,” so this PhysOrg article caught my eye. It covers a research field known as transformation optics, and the promise there is great. We’re talking the aforementioned cloak, plusultra-powerful microscopes and computers. All this is done by harnessing nanotechnology and “metamaterials.”

From the second link:

The field, which applies mathematical principles similar to those in Einstein’s theory of general relativity, will be described in an article to be published Friday (Oct. 17) in the journal Science. The article will appear in the magazine’s Perspectives section and was written by Vladimir Shalaev, Purdue’s Robert and Anne Burnett Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The list of possible breakthroughs includes a cloak of invisibility; computers and consumer electronics that use light instead of electronic signals to process information; a “planar hyperlens” that could make optical microscopes 10 times more powerful and able to see objects as small as DNA; advanced sensors; and more efficient solar collectors.

“Transformation optics is a new way of manipulating and controlling light at all distances, from the macro- to the nanoscale, and it represents a new paradigm for the science of light,” Shalaev said. “Although there were early works that helped to develop the basis for transformation optics, the field was only recently established thanks in part to papers by Sir John Pendry at the Imperial College, London, and Ulf Leonhardt at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and their co-workers.”