3-D printers enable quick construction of electromagnetic metamaterials

May 05, 2017 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
In a demonstration could revolutionize the rapid design and prototyping of radio frequency applications such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, wireless sensing and communications devices, researchers at Duke University have 3-D printed potent electromagnetic metamaterials, using an electrically conductive material compatible with a standard 3-D printer.

Synthetic materials composed of many individual, engineered devices called cells that together produce properties not found in nature, Metamaterials can be tailored to have unnatural properties such as bending light backwards, focusing electromagnetic waves onto multiple areas and perfectly absorbing specific wavelengths of light. However, previous efforts have been constrained to 2-D circuit boards, limiting their effectiveness and abilities and making their fabrication difficult.

In a new paper appearing online in the journal Applied Physics Letters, Duke materials scientists and chemists have shown a way to bring electromagnetic metamaterials into the third dimension using common 3-D printers.

"There are a lot of complicated 3-D metamaterial structures that people have imagined, designed and made in small numbers to prove they could work," said Steve Cummer, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke. "The challenge in transitioning to these more complicated designs has been the manufacturing process. With the ability to do this on a common 3-D printer, anyone can build and test a potential prototype in a matter of hours with relatively little cost."

An illustration of how 3-D-printed metamaterial unit cells could be combined like Lego blocks to create structures that bend or focus microwave radiation more powerfully than any material found in nature. Image courtesy of Abel Yangbo Xie, Duke University.