The Most Significant Breakthroughs in Materials Science for 2012


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A metamaterial working as invisibility cloak was developed. Picture by Tonechootero

2012 saw the development of a metamaterial that works as an invisibility cloak. Image by Tonechootero

2012 has been a very interesting year for materials science, with several important breakthroughs reported throughout the year. Here is a summary of some of the most significant breakthroughs of 2012.

Invisibility Cloak: Magic Becoming Real?

Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina developed a material that behaves like an invisibility cloak. They published their findings in the journal Nature Materials in November. This may remind some of you of Harry Potter’s tricks, but in this case no magic is involved, just a combination of materials science and physics.

The invisibility cloak was developed using a metamaterial, that is, an artificial material with properties that a natural material cannot have. In this case, the unique property was an interaction between light/electromagnetic radiation and the metamaterial of which the cloak was constructed. When light/radiation hits the cloak, it is neither absorbed nor reflected, but split into two components that travel around the cloak and then join together. This phenomenon causes an invisibility effect, in that the object inside the cloak is no longer visible.

This metamaterial is made of fiber glass and copper strips, and is an improvement of a previous metamaterial developed in 2006 at the same university. In this latest version, however, the fabrication process was optimized, and the “invisibility” effect is almost perfect. But the device only works in one direction and with microwave radiation.

One-Atom Transistor: Miniaturization of Electronic Devices

This ground-breaking result was achieved by scientists in Quantum Computation and Communication Technology at Sydney-Melbourne University in Australia, who published their findings in the journal Nature Nanotechnology in February.

The one-atom transistor is made of a single phosphorus (P) atom, which is accurately placed on the surface of a silicon (Si) sample. The development of a transistor on such a tiny scale is in line with the miniaturization of electronic devices, as described by Moore’s law, that has been achieved in the last year.

According to Dr. Fueschsle, the lead scientist on the project, “the exact positioning of the phosphorus atom is the most important and innovative aspect of the study, a real technological breakthrough.

Although the transistor is not yet ready for commercial applications, this study was a significant step towards it.

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