First 3D Metamaterials will enable higher resolution ultrasound, stealth submarines and other applications

Researchers have developed the first three dimensional metamaterials by combining physico-chemical formulation and microfluidics technology. This is a new generation of soft metamaterials that are easier to shape. In their experiment, the researchers got ultrasonic oscillations to move backwards while the energy carried by the wave moved forwards. Their work opens up new prospects, especially for high-resolution imaging (ultrasonography).

The new type of metamaterial, in the fluid phase, is formed of porous silicone microbeads embedded in a water-based gel. This metafluid is the first three-dimensional metamaterial to work at ultrasonic frequencies. In addition, due to its fluid nature, it can be made using physico-chemical processes and microfluidics technologies, which are much easier to implement than micromechanical methods.

One of the properties of porous media is that sound travels through them at very low speed (a few tens of meters per second) compared to water (1500 meters per second). Due to this sharp contrast, the whole suspension has the properties of a metamaterial provided the bead concentration is sufficient: when the researchers studied the propagation of ultrasonic waves through this medium, they directly measured a negative refractive index. Within such a metafluid, the energy carried by the wave travels from the emitter to the receiver, as expected, whereas the oscillations appear to move backwards in the opposite direction, rather like a dancer doing the ‘moonwalk’.

These results open the way to numerous applications ranging from high-resolution ultrasound imaging to sound insulation and stealth in underwater acoustics. In addition, the soft-matter physico-chemical techniques used to make this metamaterial makes it possible to produce fluid or flexible materials with adaptable shapes, potentially at the industrial scale.

Nature Materials – Soft 3D acoustic metamaterial with negative index

Many efforts have been devoted to the design and achievement of negative-refractive-index metamaterials since the 2000s. One of the challenges at present is to extend that field beyond electromagnetism by realizing three-dimensional (3D) media with negative acoustic indices. We report a new class of locally resonant ultrasonic metafluids consisting of a concentrated suspension of macroporous microbeads engineered using soft-matter techniques. The propagation of Gaussian pulses within these random distributions of ‘ultra-slow’ Mie resonators is investigated through in situ ultrasonic experiments. The real part of the acoustic index is shown to be negative (up to almost − 1) over broad frequency bandwidths, depending on the volume fraction of the microbeads as predicted by multiple-scattering calculations. These soft 3D acoustic metamaterials open the way for key applications such as sub-wavelength imaging and transformation acoustics, which require the production of acoustic devices with negative or zero-valued indices.

6 pages of Supplemental material.

SOURCES – Nature Materials, Centre de Recherche Paul Pascal