UK Metamaterials Network

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

Metamaterials are artificial materials with characteristics beyond those found in nature that unlock routes to material and device functionalities not available using conventional approaches. Their electromagnetic, acoustic or mechanical behaviour is not simply dictated by averaging out the properties of their constituent elements, but emerge from the precise control of geometry, arrangement, alignment, material composition, shape, size and density of their constituent elements. In terms of applications, metamaterials have phenomenal potential, in important areas, from energy to ICT, defence & security, aerospace, and healthcare. Numerous market research studies predict very significant growth over the next decade, for example, by 2030 the metamaterial device market is expected to reach a value of over $10bn (Lux Research 2019).

The 'Metamaterials' topic is inherently interdisciplinary, spanning advanced materials (plasmonics, active materials, RF, high index contrast, 2D materials, phase change materials, transparent conductive oxides, soft materials), theoretical physics, quantum physics, chemistry, biology, engineering (mechanical and electrical), acoustics, computer sciences (e.g. artificial intelligence, high performance computing), and robotics. Historically, the UK has been a global leader in the field, with its roots in the work of radar engineers in the 2nd World War, and being reinvigorated by the research of some of our most eminent academics, including Professor Sir John Pendry. However today, it risks falling behind the curve. As a specific example, the Chinese government has funded the development of the world's first large-scale metamaterial fabrication facility, which has capacity to produce 100,000 m2 of metamaterial plates annually, with projects relating to aerospace, communication, satellite and military applications.

The breadth of metamaterial research challenges is huge, from theory, fabrication, experiment, and requiring expertise in large-scale manufacturing and field testing for successful exploitation. We believe that the isolation of research groups and lack of platforms to exchange and develop ideas currently inhibits the UK's access to the interdisciplinary potential existing within our universities, industries, and governmental agencies. It is of the utmost importance to develop interactions and mobility between these communities, to enable knowledge transfer, innovation, and a greater understanding of the barriers and opportunities.

The intervention that this Network will provide will ensure that the UK does not lag our international competitors. Via the Network's Special Interest Groups, Forums, National Symposia and other community-strengthening strategies, the enhanced collaboration will help resolve key interdisciplinary challenges and foster the required talent pipeline across academia and industry. As a result we will see an increase in research power for the metamaterials theme, and therefore reaping the impact opportunities of this area for UK economy and society. The Network's extensive promotion of the benefits of metamaterials technology (e.g., case studies, white papers etc), facilitation of access to metamaterial experts and facilities (through the online database) and closer interactions with end-users at appropriate events (e.g. industry-academia workshops) will help grow external investment in metamaterials research. Ultimately the Network will provide the stimulation of a discovery-innovation-enterprise cycle to meet desired outcomes for prosperity and consequentially, society, defence, and security.

Planned Impact

The UK Metamaterials Network will have significant academic, economic, and societal impact, all of which are intertwined through the network activities outlined in the Case for Support and Workplan.


Academic impact will be ensured due to the network enabling a platform for academia, industry, and governmental agencies to exchange ideas and knowledge, communicate challenges, and subsequently collaborate to drive the development of pathways to solutions.

The network's Special Interest Groups (SIGs) enable interactions from theory to application across physics, engineering, maths, chemistry, biology, and computer sciences on interdisciplinary research topics. The SIGs will foster understanding of the contributions from each discipline involved, towards research and application areas that are currently highly topical (active metamaterials, flexible metasurfaces, wireless applications) or that are on the cusp of enabling new innovations and industrial exploitation (manufacturing and scale up of metamaterials, modelling and AI design for metamaterials).

The SIGs will also generate impact via activities such as preparation of special edition journals; delivery of topical sessions at existing national and international conferences; generation of funding proposals with view of the UKRI priorities, in particular the ISCF challenges and the EPSRC delivery plan; engagement with UKRI/Parliament to provide insights in latest developments and to advise on future directions, and development of educational content (e.g. summer schools and university programmes), and outreach activities. By doing so, the academic impact of advanced understanding will inevitably lead to subsequent economical and societal impact.


Economic and societal impacts of the network in the short- and long-term are plenty-fold. Enabling the unification of a currently disperse community will ensure that the UK is internationally competitive in the growing metamaterials device market (currently dominated by Asia and the US) which is predicted to reach over $10bn by 2023. Metamaterials have a phenomenal range of potential applications with the ability to transform the way we do things. The UK has been pivotal in the early days of metamaterials research, and now has an opportunity to ensure we can reap the economic benefits of our long-developed expertise. This in turn will lead to direct improvements in people's every-day lives, saving energy and lives through metamaterials applications in sectors such as renewable energy (energy harvesting and storage), ICT (wearable electronics), defence & security (wireless communication; security tags), aerospace (communication antennas), and healthcare (cancer diagnostics).

In terms of impact through people development, the Network will engage and inspire bright, new researchers, and help develop their careers. A pipeline of talented scientists and engineeers will create sector-wide confidence which in turn will develop, attract and retain a higher skilled workforce.

The network will act as single point of contact for a vast web of knowledge, thereby supporting public services and policy makers by making subject expertise available to the House of Commons library, and engaging with All-Party Parliamentary Groups, and Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology, as well as UKRI.

Our coordinated efforts will further enable a better public engagement strategy, raising awareness of metamaterials benefits and inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Publications

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