Grant funds negative index material research

Callie Fruit

Light is bending physics in a new direction.

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research issued a $5.5 million grant last April to Kent State and six other institutions as a part of its Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative — a five-year-project that provides funding for research groups from different disciplines working for a common objective.

In this case, the common objective is negative index materials – explained by Liquid Crystal Institute director Oleg Lavrentovich as substances that are capable of bending light in the opposite direction.

The grant money will be stretched out over a five-year period in order to cover costs of supplies, software and facilities associated with the study of negative index materials, according to the Air Force Web site.

“They can be formed as a flat surface, creating a perfect lens with super resolution and without distortion,” Lavrentovich said in a press release.

According to Snell’s law, when light travels from one material to another, like from air to water, it refracts positively, or bends to the right. However, new man-made materials are causing light to negatively refract, or bend to the left.

Chemical-physics professor Peter Palffy-Muhoray is the principal investigator of the project. He said the goal for this project is to create a negative index material for the visible light near the infrared spectrum, which have shorter wavelengths.

“It’s easier to make materials for longer wavelengths, such as microwaves,” Palffy-Muhoray said.

The application of these negative index materials is to make optical elements with higher resolution rather than wavelength of light, he said. This will enable lenses and other optical elements to focus more precisely.

However, negative index materials are not found in nature, Palffy-Muhoray said. They are man-made using nano-particles and a new type of liquid crystals to provide orientation order to the materials.

“The most remarkable thing is that, in these materials, light waves and energy travel in opposite directions,” Palffy-Muhoray said.

In all other known materials, energy and light travel together.

Technology, medicine and optics are just a few fields that could benefit from this research. More precision, higher resolution and enhanced storage capacity could improve such devices as MRI scanning and DVD storage.

Russian physicist Victor Veselago theorized in 1968 that a negative refraction or index could exist if a material had certain properties, which was not widely accepted until recently. In 2000, negative index materials were developed for the longer wavelengths of visible light.

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Callie Fruit at [email protected].