Researchers create metamaterials by carefully designing and fabricating novel structures to exhibit patterns of electromagnetic properties—specifically, dielectric permittivity and/or magnetic permeability—at the micro-or nano-scale. This special spatial arrangement of elements ensures that the volumetric arrays interact with electromagnetic fields in desirable ways.

The resulting materials (or devices) can, for example, efficiently absorb or emit EM radiation across a wide bandwidth, or do so along specified directions, making them perfect for sensitive, highly directional antennas or beam-steering arrays. Such high-function, low-form-factor metamaterial antennas could be fully embedded in the skin and even conform to airframe contours without compromising aerodynamic performance.

It is little wonder then that a variety of companies are working in this field, according to a recent report by technology consultants Lux Research. Lead author Anthony Vicari and his Lux colleagues cited vigorous R&D effort on metamaterial antennas at startups such as Kymeta, Fractal Antenna Systems, and Metamaterial Tech; industrial firms including Harris Corp., Kyocera Wireless, and EMW; large aerospace and defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon; and even consumer electronics giant, Samsung. Among the leading academic institutions in this area, they said, are Duke University and Queen Mary’s University of London.

Another big player in metamaterial antenna technology is BAE Systems, the British multinational aerospace and defense firm. Earlier this year, the company announced that company researchers had built a prototype metamaterial antenna lens that was significantly flatter and more compact than the conventional analogue on which it was based.

Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2014 issue of Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine.

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