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Materials’ light tricks may soon extend to doing math

Metamaterials could provide faster pattern recognition

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2:00pm, January 9, 2014

LIGHT MATH  A new simulation shows that a light wave (red squiggle, left) entering into a specially designed structure (cube) can be transformed into the original light wave’s derivative (right), a common computation in calculus.

Tiny structures that use light waves to perform ultrafast complex mathematical operations could be built from available materials, a new computer simulation suggests.

The study could soon lead to new metamaterials, human-made materials that manipulate light in surprising ways. In previous experiments, scientists have used metamaterials to create invisibility cloaks that bend light waves around objects (SN 8/27/11, p. 16). Nader Engheta, an electrical engineer at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, took metamaterials in a new direction in 2012, when he and colleagues made circuit elements that process light waves the way resistors and capacitors process electric currents. Such elements could be far smaller and faster than current electrical circuit parts.

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