Frequently Asked Questions

What does the MCC do?
The MCC is a team of dedicated engineers, physicists, and scientists involved foremost with research and development efforts at the Intellectual Ventures Laboratory. The goal of these efforts range from proof-of-concept experiments and technical risk reduction studies, to the development of demonstration designs. The MCC works closely with the business development team at IV’s Invention Science Fund and participates actively in the in-house inventive process.

What is the role of Intellectual Ventures?
Intellectual Ventures took an early interest and developmental stake in the ideas of metamaterials beginning nearly from the infancy of the field. IV now believes the best way to realize the value of these ideas is to directly demonstrate metamaterials potential through incubating start-ups and attracting licensing partners to bring metamaterial devices to market.

What is a metamaterial?
A metamaterial is an array or ensemble of individual elements — unit cells — which collectively create a macroscopic response determined largely by the internal composition of the unit cells. This behavior is found when the unit cells become smaller than a phenomenon of interest, typically one-third of a wavelength or less. When in the metamaterial regime, much of the macroscopic design process can be reduced to the design of the unit cells, which can greatly simplify the engineering of complex devices.

How can the response of metamaterials be controlled?
The response of metamaterial unit cells is set by a combination of geometry and materials most often designed numerically. The initial response is fixed at the time of fabrication, and can be adjusted/modified in real time through introduction of stimuli: electrical, optical, mechanical, etc.

What sorts of materials can be used when designing metamaterials?
Material choice is highly dependent on the application, but typical material choices are metals such as copper, gold, silver, or aluminum, combined with plastics, air, and ceramics. For electromagnetic metamaterials, printed circuit boards offer good material options in a mature fabrication process. In other areas such as acoustics, newer fabrication technologies such as 3-D printing show promise.

What governs the size of the unit cells?
To operate in the metamaterial regime, the size of the unit cells should typically be smaller than one-third of the “wavelength” of the property you wish to control. Smaller unit cells can often be better, but not always. As an example, in the microwave frequencies (used for satellite communication and radar applications) the wavelength is several centimeters long — so the unit cells are in the range of several millimeters.

Are metamaterials inherently lossy?
Not necessarily. While many metamaterial designs rely on resonances and demonstrations of resonant metamaterial devices in the literature are often lossy, total losses are governed by design subtleties and material choices rather than anything intrinsic to the resonance. The MCC has demonstrated that metamaterial devices can operate with an efficiency equal to that of many conventional non-resonant devices in a wide range of situations.

Are metamaterials inherently narrow bandwidth?
While use of a resonance necessarily imparts a limit on instantaneous bandwidth, not all metamaterials designs are resonant; and very broadband devices have been demonstrated in the literature. Additionally, while use of a resonance shrinks bandwidth, this expense comes with significant possible gains in performance. In this sense, bandwidth is not an output of a design, but an input to a design process.

Does a metamaterial surface need to be rigid?
Absolutely not! The academic literature has demonstrated metamaterials on flexible substrates and many of these devices can survive millions of repeated deformations. We see that the potential to create non-planar and conformal metamaterial devices is quite compelling in a number of application areas.

What about invisibility cloaks?
Demonstration of electromagnetic cloaking has served as a superb example of the power of the metamaterials approach and radically new devices may continue to emerge where imagination meets metamaterials engineering. From the viewpoint of rallying widespread acceptance and proving the impact of metamaterials in the marketplace, we believe our efforts are presently best directed in other areas but we do follow the world’s advances in cloaking with enthusiasm.