Scientists from Queen Mary University of London and BAE Systems have seemingly defied the laws of physics to create a new type of antenna lens which could revolutionise the design of aircraft, ships, radios and satellite dishes – potentially any product which uses an antenna.
Using a concept known as transformation optics and novel composite metamaterials, the electromagnetic (EM) properties of a curved antenna lens have been emulated in a flat panel whilst retaining the same broadband performance.
Metamaterials are artificially engineered materials which can do things beyond the reach of natural materials. Transformation optics is a concept which allows for novel control and direction of light or EM. When both are applied to antenna design, they have the potential to greatly enhance performance and bandwidth without the need for large dished reflectors or curved lenses.
A composite metamaterials antenna could be embedded into the skin of an aircraft without compromising aerodynamic performance. This represents a leap forward from current airborne antennas that have to be mounted within an aerodynamically shaped radome, which weather-proofs the device.
To make a flat panel redirect EM energy like a curved lens, a 3D 'map' is created, which contains the data that determines how the EM energy is to be deflected. This map is then used to deposit precise layers of a metamaterial in such a way that the performance of a curved lens is emulated by a flat panel. In fact, the panel can be almost any shape required whilst retaining the same EM performance. For example, a section of an aircraft's external skin - such as a wing leading edge - could be replaced by a metamaterials lens manufactured to match the exact profile thereby having no effect on the aerodynamics of the platform.
Professor Yang Hao from Queen Mary’s School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, commented: “It’s possible in the future that this research could contribute to the production of even smaller or discrete antennas. This could be useful in all walks of life from telecommunications to healthcare. We’re very pleased that this joint effort between academia and industry has overcome many restrictions on antenna design.”
Dr Sajad Haq from BAE Systems Advanced Technology Centre in Bristol said: “The technology developed could lead to us to think differently about aircraft design as well as lowering radar cross-sections and providing weight savings. Traditional metamaterials suffer from limited bandwidth whereas the new composite metamaterial we have developed for this antenna does not. The project is a great example of academic and industrial collaboration, illustrating perfectly what can be achieved with the right partnerships and skill set.
By partnering with QMUL, this research will help BAE Systems to develop sensor and communications systems for future platforms and to understand what impact emerging technologies such as transformation optics and novel nano-materials will have on the defence, security and aerospace sector.
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