The concept of “digital metamaterials” – a simple way of designing metamaterials with bizarre optical properties that could hasten the development of devices such as invisibility cloaks and superlenses – is reported in a paper published today in Nature Materials.

Metamaterials are artificially engineered out of microscopic subunits – such as glass, metal or plastic – arranged in a repeating fashion. Once assembled, these metamaterials possess unique properties, such as interacting with light in unusual ways, which aren’t often seen in natural materials.

“The idea behind metamaterials is to mimic the way atoms interact with light, but with artificial structures much smaller than the wavelength of light itself,” said Boris Kuhlmey, associate professor of photonics and optics at the University of Sydney.

“This way, optical properties are no longer restricted to those of the constituent materials, and can be designed almost arbitrarily.”

The researchers of the Nature Materials paper, from the University of Pennsylvania, were inspired to develop digital metamaterials by the binary numeral system of Boolean algebra.

The binary system is used internally by most digital electronic devices, such as computers and smartphones. Complex digital devices have their digital information simply encoded as a string of 1s and 0s called “bits”.

The proposed method for digital metamaterials is a simplified way of building metamaterials, yet still allows for complex and diverse properties to be achieved.

“The beauty of the new method is its simplicity,” said Min Gu, professor of optoelectronics at Swinburne University of Technology.

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