Transformation optics, metamaterials, nanophotonics, plasmonics

Transformation optics is a field of optical and material engineering and science embracing nanophotonics, plasmonics, and optical metamaterials.

Transformation optics may enable invisibility, ultra-powerful microscopes and computers by harnessing nanotechnology and “metamaterials.”

The list of possible breakthroughs includes a cloak of invisibility; computers and consumer electronics that use light instead of electronic signals to process information; a “planar hyperlens” that could make optical microscopes 10 times more powerful and able to see objects as small as DNA; advanced sensors; and more efficient solar collectors.

Computers using light instead of electronic signals to process information would be thousands of times faster than conventional computers. Such “photonic” computers would contain special transistor-size optical elements made from metamaterials.

Transformation optics also could enable engineers to design and build a “planar magnifying hyperlens” that would drastically improve the power and resolution of light microscopes.

“The hyperlens is probably the most exciting and promising metamaterial application to date,” Shalaev said. “The first hyperlens, proposed independently by Evgenii Narimanov at Princeton and Nader Engheta at the University of Pennsylvania and their co-workers, was cylindrical in shape. Transformation optics, however, enables a hyperlens in a planar form, which is important because you could just simply add this flat hyperlens to conventional microscopes and see things 10 times smaller than now possible. You could focus down to the nanoscale, much smaller than the wavelength of light, to actually see molecules like DNA, viruses and other objects that are now simply too small to see.”

He estimated that researchers may be building prototypes using transformation optics, such as the first planar hyperlenses, within five years.

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"Hydroelectric power is good but there are limitations on increasing it significantly except in China"

There are lots of places where all the hydroelectricity potential is in use, but China isn't the only exception. If people in central Africa were to get their political act together the Congo river could provide all the electricity they need to have a western living.standard



I actually think the primary factor for not building nukes was cost. First high interest rates in the seventies and then cheap natural gas that stalled out nukes. Although the cost can be effected by policy and policy in the USA can be affected by people and events.

On the point of effort. While it takes a large logistical organization to mount a large conventional offensive, it is not necessarily more difficult politically. Making a nuclear offensive now would carry stigma and more political issues (the other nations and peoples would tend to rally against the user of nukes). A conventional slaughter is unfortunately not that unique and the response has often tended to be delayed and ineffective. (Darfur, Rawanda, etc...)

I feel that the economic and policy tide has already turned in favor of nuclear power in the USA. (loan guarantees in 2005 and 2007 and other favorable policy). If in 2009 the climate change bill passes then coal and carbon power will get even more expensive and nuclear will get a big boost as clear economic choice.

Discounting the nuclear weapons threat is because I actually believe nuclear weapons to not be that different from a Stalinesque use of conventional power. Nuclear power should be distinguished from nuclear weapons because of the different nuclear fuel cycle.

The other aspect for my discounting nuclear weapons is because as a futurist I believe in the progress of technology and in particular energy and space and nanotechnology and genetic. When the breakthroughs that I expect are made (nuclear fusion, space propulsion, materials, computers etc...) then the power at civilizations disposal and every day use will downgrade make control of nuclear weapons to the level of a chemical bomb now. ie. if you can freely travel the solar system at 10% of light speed then if you ejected a chair out of your ship and it hit something stationary the effect would be like a nuclear fission bomb.


Brian - sure, but isn't the point that it'd take a huge amount of effort to do the devastation that a few nukes could do?

And that while you could see flights of bombers flying your way, you might miss a single A-bomb hidden in a cargo ship, slipping into your harbor?

I agree nuclear power has been maligned, but is discounting the threat of nuclear weapons the way to rectify that?

After all, we embraced nuclear power for years after the bombs were dropped on Japan and Russia and China got The Bomb. It was environmentalist fear-mongering that led to halting construction, not fears of people making a-bombs using their nuclear power plants or associated fuel refineries.


Interesting revisionist history by Dyson on the end of WWII. I read the history considerably differently, but it is exciting to read the different POVs. Almost like science fiction alternate universes.

The human mind truly is the creator and destroyer of universes.


Interesting rethink on why nuclear proliferation is a minor issue, quite apart from the technical reasons why it is neither easy nor widely sought.

One incidental point is that hydroelectricity has killed plenty of people, comparable to the nuclear weapon body count, in addition to wreaking much more widespread destruction. I'm still in favour of it even so, because it's so much better than coal and gas.