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Beyond good vibrations: new insights into metamaterial magic

From invisibility cloaks and perfect lenses to immensely powerful batteries, the potential super-power applications of metamaterials tantalize the imagination. These designer materials work by bending the paths of electromagnetic radiation -- from radio waves to visible light to high-energy gamma rays -- in new and different ways. How metamaterials bend those paths -- a process called refraction -- drives their peculiar applications. The conventional approach among metamaterials researchers has been to relate a metamaterial’s refractive properties to resonance. Each tiny building block of the metamaterial vibrates like a tuning fork as the electromagnetic radiation passes through, causing the desired type of refraction. The team ran numerous computer simulations and made a surprising discovery: It was the shape and repetitive organization of the building blocks within the metamaterial -- their periodicity -- that affected the refraction. Resonance seemed to have little or nothing to do with it.

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