UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — To create advanced electromagnetic and optical metamaterials — artificial materials engineered to possess unique qualities not available in natural materials — Penn State researchers have been awarded more than $6.5 million in funding for three projects. The successful design and application of metamaterial-augmented antennas could enhance the United States’ military and homeland security responses as well as commercial infrastructure including 5G and 6G broadband wireless communication systems and devices such as cell phones and tablets.
The funding for these three projects comes from the Department of Defense, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Lockheed Martin.
“These projects aim to exploit the extraordinary properties of metamaterials to develop disruptive antenna technology capable of meeting the increasing performance demands and compact form factors of next-generation surveillance and communications systems,” said Doug Werner, John L. and Genevieve H. McCain Chair Professor of Electrical Engineering and director of the Computational Electromagnetics and Antennas Research Lab (CEARL) at Penn State.
Werner, principal investigator of the projects, and his research team’s work stands at the forefront of the design and application of electromagnetic and optical metamaterials. CEARL uses these metamaterials to pursue advanced multifunctional antenna technology for 5G & 6G applications, the Internet of Things, body-centric wearable and textile antennas, as well as disruptive nanophotonics and planar, or flat, optics enabled by metasurfaces.
With funding totaling up to $6.2 million from the Department of Defense, Werner and co-principal investigators Sawyer Campbell, assistant research professor of electrical engineering, and Galestan Mackertich-Sengerdy, researcher in electrical engineering, aim to develop transformational high-power microwave metamaterial-enabled systems to improve the safety and security of the nation’s military. The megawatt- and gigawatt-class antennas use state-of-the-art metamaterials, developed and tested by CEARL, to enable fast, high-reliability beam steering — the antenna’s ability to direct electromagnetic radiation to its intended target.
Additionally, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has funded a $100,000 exploratory project headed by Werner and Campbell to develop new modeling and optimization tools for the design of broadband small antennas in the quest for achieving or even possibly breaking the Chu limit, a classical theoretical limit that governs the performance of passive small antennas. CEARL’s efforts have the potential to significantly advance current state-of-the-art antenna design.
Lastly, Lockheed Martin has provided $200,000 to support projects involving the research and development of gradient-index lens technology, which can improve the performance of existing antenna systems at multiple frequency bands. The CEARL researchers will use powerful inverse-design algorithms and advanced additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, techniques to potentially create smaller antenna systems with enhanced multiband beam scanning performance.
“The metamaterials technology under development in these programs is expected to have a profound impact on future military and civilian antenna systems by reducing their overall size and weight, enabling multifunctional capabilities not previously possible and significantly increasing their power-handling capacity,” Werner said.