Metamaterials – artificial materials with unusual properties not typically found in natural materials – will soon be turning up in niche commercial applications, and are poised to enter the mainstream in 10 years, according to Lux Research.
Metamaterials use a carefully controlled micro- or nanostructure to create novel mechanical, electromagnetic, or acoustic properties. They can be used to create devices like improved satellite antennas or security scanners, as well as exotic innovations like superlenses that can produce ultra-high resolution images, or “invisibility cloaks” that redirect electromagnetic radiation completely around an object.
“Practical implementation of these technologies depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods that allow fine patterning,” said Anthony Vicari, Lux Research Associate and the lead author of the report titled, “Breaking the Rules: Emerging Metamaterials Drive Performance in New Directions.”
“As developers discover cheaper ways to produce metamaterials, they can have a disruptive impact on industries like communications, electronics, and defense,” he added.
Lux Research analysts evaluated the progress of metamaterials R&D, assessed advances by start-ups, and conducted a patent and commercial milestone analysis. Among their findings:
Government agencies dominate funding. Even though venture capital investors have poured over $100 million into metamaterials start-ups, predominant funding comes from governments, ranging from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to the Chinese central government, which have contributed over $200 million.
Diverse start-ups emerging. Since 2006, start-ups such as Rayspan and Kymeta have targeted the low-hanging fruit – developing radio and microwave frequency electromagnetic metamaterials, such as antennas for communications. Now others are focusing on metamaterials to manipulate visible light, or make surfaces that repel bacteria.
Duke University leads in publications. Since 2000, over 7,500 academic publications on metamaterials have been published at over 500 universities. Duke University, led by its Center for Metamaterials and Integrated Plasmonics, heads the pack with 133 publications; Imperial College of London’s Centre for Plasmonics and Metamaterials and Penn State are fellow academic leaders.
The report, titled “Breaking the Rules: Emerging Metamaterials Drive Performance in New Directions,” is part of the Lux Research Advanced Materials Intelligence service.