A new study by researchers at the
"Thanks to recent advances in nanotechnology, today we are able to control light propagation through a material in unprecedented ways and realize material functionalities that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago," said author
By swapping analog computers' mechanical gears and electrical circuits for optical materials that operate on light waves, it may once again be the computers' time to shine, but this time at the micro- and nanoscale.
"Compared to digital computers, analog computers were bulky, power hungry and slow," said senior author
Metamaterials are composites of natural materials but are designed in such a way that they manipulate electromagnetic waves in ways that are more than the simple sum of their parts. Multiple manipulations can be combined or performed in sequence, allowing metamaterial researchers to change the shape of waves in complex ways.
A light wave, when described in terms of space and time, has a profile in space that can be thought of as a curve on a Cartesian plane. The researchers' theoretical material can perform a specific mathematical operation on that wave's profile, such as finding its first or second derivative, as the light wave passes through the material.
Essentially, shining a light wave on one side of such a material would result in that wave profile's derivative exiting the other side. Metamaterials capable of other calculus operations, such as integration and convolution, could also be produced.
Viewing and manipulating this type of light wave "profile" is an everyday occurrence for applications such as image processing, though it is typically done after the light wave has been converted to electronic signals in the form of digital information. The researchers' proposed computational metamaterials could almost instantly perform such operations on the original wave, such as the light coming in through the lens of a camera, without conversion to electronic signals.
TNS 30TagarumaMar-140110-4597349 30TagarumaMar
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