The University of Southampton

Electrical signals dictate optical properties

Published: 14 March 2013

Researchers at Southampton University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre have created an artificial material, a metamaterial, with optical properties that can be controlled by electric signals. 

Photonic metamaterials are artificial materials created by precise and extremely fine structuring of conventional media using nanotechnology. They offer numerous new applications from cloaking to radically improved solar cells. However, the properties of metamaterials are usually fixed. 

Dr Eric Plum, Research Lecturer at the ORC, explained:“We have found a fast and reliable way of coordinating the motion of thousands of metamaterial building blocks. We shift them by distances a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. These minute rearrangements are sufficient to radically change the transmission and reflection characteristics of the metamaterial. We do this by engaging the same force that sticks a small piece of paper to a comb after brushing. In essence we dictate the movement of metamaterial building blocks with electrical signals, and we can do this very fast.” 

Seen as an enabling technology of the future, metamaterials research has grown rapidly in the past decade. 

Southampton’s Centre for Photonic Metamaterials is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and is at the forefront of this development. Its Director, Professor Nikolay Zheludev said: “Thanks to nanotechnology we need not depend only on natural materials; we can now engineer optical properties and change them at will. Light-enabled technologies are vital to the twenty-first century, and photonic metamaterials will have a broad impact”. 

This work is now published in Nature Nanotechnology. To read the full article visit: 

Find out more about metamaterials research in Southampton.

For more information contact Prof. N. Zheludev or Dr E. Plum 

ORC database number 5741 J. Y. Ou, E. Plum, J. Zhang and N. I. Zheludev An electromechanically reconfigurable plasmonic metamaterial operating in the near-infrared Nature Nanotechnology (2013) 

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