SIR JOHN PENDRY PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES Professor Sir John Pendry is one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists and his revolutionary work on materials has opened the doors to a world of new possibilities. With EPSRC support, Pendry established an entirely new field of science – known as metamaterials. These new materials derive their properties from their structure not the material from which they are made. In short, his work has created materials with electromagnetic properties that give us greater control of light itself. “Optics, mobile phone signals, radar, MRI scanning – in all these areas, if you want to achieve something you need to control the electromagnetic field and you need a material to control it. The obvious example is iron to make a magnet,” says Pendry, from Imperial
College London. But the properties of naturally occurring materials are limited. “We realised using our approach we could gain properties that were not available in nature and this made highly sought after experiments possible.” Metamaterials hit the headlines with the creation of a functioning ‘invisibility cloak’. The ‘perfect lens’ is another example of metamaterials’ world-changing potential. Using conventional materials, data storage on DVDs and CDs is limited by the wavelength of light used to write the data – the shorter the wavelength of the laser, the more data can be written on a disc. But Pendry’s ‘perfect lens’ utilises negative refraction to allow limitless data storage. He says: “The wavelength limit is only imposed by the design of the lens and if we use our theory then it says there should not be a limit.” And he credits EPSRC funding as instrumental in helping him realise the impact of his work.
“Having great ideas doesn’t involve excessive time. But what does take time is working them through. That’s what EPSRC funding allowed me to do. It put a rocket under the metamaterials work.”
Photograph courtesy of Imperial College London/Mike Finn-Kelcey