Monday, March 13, 2017

"Metamaterials" and You!

          By Brian Orlotti

A recently released report has analysed the global metamaterials market, revealing that it is poised for growth of around 19.8% over the next decade, reaching approximately $3.11Bln US ($4.18Bln CDN) by 2025.

Canada has been an active player in this realm, with a variety of new developments.

As outlined in the March 9th, 2017 PRNewswire press release, "Global $3.11 Billion Metamaterials Technologies Market Analysis & Trends 2013-2016 - Industry Forecast to 2025 - Research and Markets," the report, entitled "Global Metamaterials Technologies Market Analysis & Trends - Industry Forecast to 2025," presented detailed market analysis based on interviews with professionals from across the industry supported by secondary research.

It focused on 23 nations including the US, Canada, Mexico, the UK, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa.

Metamaterials are materials engineered to have properties not found in nature. They are made from assemblies of multiple elements arranged in repeating patterns and fashioned from composite materials such as metals or plastics. Metamaterials derive their unique properties not from the characteristics of their base materials, but from their resulting structures.

These structures’ precise shape, geometry, size, orientation and arrangement make metamaterials capable of manipulating electromagnetic waves, such as light and sound. By blocking, absorbing, enhancing, or bending these waves, metamaterials achieve benefits beyond those of conventional materials.

Metamaterials have a wide variety of potential applications. Researchers have shown off optical invisibility cloaks, audio dampeners, as well as "unfeelability" cloaks. Other applications in development include:
  • Tiny elastic ceramics that spring back after being squashed by up to 50%
  • Microchip-sized phased-array antennas
  • Earthquake shielding for buildings
  • Superlenses that would allow imaging beyond the limits of conventional glass lenses
  • Materials with programmable stiffness
Canadians have mounted their own noteworthy efforts in the metamaterials field.

Metamaterial Technologies Inc. (MTI), a Dartmouth, Nova Scotia based firm, has created an anti-laser guard that utilizes metamaterials to protect aircraft pilots from the increasingly common threat of laser strikes. Designed by MTI’s optical filters division, Lamda Guard, the guard is a thin film that can be fixed to the inside of a cockpit window, reflecting excess light away from its surface to protect pilots’ eyes. The guard is made from a flexible, colour-neutral photo-polymer film.

On Feb 21st, MTI announced a partnership with European aerospace giant Airbus to test and certify its new product at Halifax’s Discovery Centre.

At the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems (CIARS), engineering Professor Safieddin (Ali) Safavi-Naeini and his fellow researchers are working on the next generation of advanced, low-cost "intelligent" antennas utilizing metamaterials.

As outlined in the May 13th, 2016 Waterloo Engineering post, "Next generation of advanced, low cost, intelligent antennas," these advanced antennas would be  initially used in communications among cars, aircraft, ships and satellites and eventually incorporated into consumer goods such as cellphones and computers.

CIARS has partnered with Ottawa, Ontario-based C-Com Satellite Systems Inc. to develop small modular phased array antennas intended to shake up the satellite antenna industry. These antenna modules can be manufactured in a variety of shapes and sizes which can conform to both flat and curved surfaces, using existing 3D printers designed for building low-cost electronic circuits. 

Unlike typical phased array antennas, which require phase-shifters on each separate element, Dr. Safavi-Naeini’s antenna modules include onboard phase shifters without the need for additional power-consuming components, on a printed board compatible with standard circuit manufacturing techniques.

The completed array will even continue to function if some of the components are damaged, exhibiting "graceful degradation" of capability rather than catastrophic failure.

With their layered capabilities now coming to light, metamaterials definitely live up to their name.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network administrator at KPMG and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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