Voices from DARPA

Voices from DARPA


Episode 75: The Metamaterial Visionary

January 17, 2024

We usually think of materials based on our experience in the natural world. For example, something that’s light is usually fragile (like a feather) or something heavy is usually strong (like a brick). But what if we could engineer a material that had completely new characteristics that defied properties found in nature? Engineered materials, also known as metamaterials, allow us to do just that. DARPA Program Manager Dr. Rohith Chandrasekar in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office has led programs designing metamaterials that revolutionize how light interacts with matter. His programs are enabling new concepts for improving Warfighter effectiveness and health on the battlefield with new optics and materials. In this episode, Dr. Chandrasekar discusses several of these programs including Enhanced Night Vision in Eyeglass Form (ENVision), which has developed metamaterials to replace heavy and bulky binocular-like night-vision goggles lenses with lightweight lenses providing more infrared information and near eyesight field of view, in a form factor like a pair of glasses. He also discusses his Coded Visibility program, which focused on developing novel obscurants (aka smoke) used on the battlefield to provide friendly forces with visibility of the environment, while simultaneously hiding them from detection by an adversary. The catch, however, is that the smoke particles needed to be safe to breathe and potentially even tunable using active sources. Finally, he talks about the Accelerating discovery of Tunable Optical Materials (ATOM) program. This effort seeks to identify new materials whose properties could be rapidly changed to enable different functions. Imagine a massive telephoto camera on the sideline of a sporting event replaced with a planar imaging system that could zoom, or a thin filter that can rapidly collect critical data across infrared bands for spectroscopy, all with no moving parts. Sounds like magic, but it’s not! Enjoy listening to DARPA’s Metamaterial Visionary.


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