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Nanotechnology

John Pendry video: the birth and promise of metamaterials

The pioneer of the metamaterials field talks about its potential across the electromagnetic spectrum and beyond. 

18 October 2011, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.3201110.02

Sir John Pendry has conducted pioneering work on the structure of surfaces and their interaction with electrons and photons. He founded the field of metamaterials with a negative refractive index. His work helped to pave the way for perfect lenses and other devices that focus light into a space smaller than its wavelength -- beating the diffraction limit.

Pendry has published more than 200 scientific papers on subjects such as surface plasmons and negative refractive index materials. From 1975-1981 he worked at the Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire. In 1981, he was appointed professor at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, where he was head of the Department of Physics and Principal of the Faculty of Physical Sciences. He is an honorary fellow of Downing College, Cambridge and an IEEE fellow. In 1984, he was named a Fellow of the Royal Society as well as a Fellow of the Institute of Physics. In 2004, he was knighted for his services to science.

He has worked extensively on electronic and structural properties of surfaces developing the theory of low-energy diffraction and of electronic surface states. Another interest is transport in disordered systems where he produced a complete theory of the statistics of transport in one-dimensional systems.

In 1992 he turned his attention to photonic materials and developed some of the first computer codes capable of handling these novel materials. This interest led to his present research, which concerns the remarkable electromagnetic properties of materials where the normal response to electromagnetic fields is reversed leading to negative values for the refractive index. This innocent description hides a wealth of fascinating complications. In collaboration with scientists at The Marconi Company he designed a series of ‘metamaterials' whose properties owed more to their micro-structure than to the constituent materials. These made accessible completely novel materials with properties not found in nature. Successively metamaterials with negative electrical permittivity, then with negative magnetic permeability were designed and constructed. These designs were subsequently the basis for the first material with a negative refractive index, a property predicted 40 years ago by a Russian scientist, but unrealized because of the absence of suitable materials. He went on to explore the surface excitations of the new negative materials and showed that these were part of the surface plasmon excitations familiar in metals.

He was interviewed in August 2011 for SPIE Newsroom.