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Accelerating innovation by leveraging metamaterials

Metamaterials (i.e., engineered electromagnetic structures), are poised to disrupt industries, create entirely new markets, and change society. The ability to design and fabricate materials with new functionalities opens the door to a new world of possibilities — it is now possible to realize Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak and optical black holes, which we once thought was impossible. Beyond the realms of science fiction, metamaterials can be tailored to either augment the functionality of existing devices or create new devices with superior performances.

PARC has been developing a broad array of exciting and impactful metamaterial technology platforms. Today, the metamaterials team is engaged in developing passive radiative cooling (self-cooling films) for buildings and power plant cooling; electronically scanned array platform for drones and self-driving cars; smart metamaterial antennas for 5G networks and satellites; metasurfaces for molding the flow of light; thermal barriers for energy-efficient single pane windows; RF energy harvesting platform for IoT; peripheral nerves/brain focused magnetic stimulation (FMS) technologies; thermophotovoltaics devices; multispectral imaging chemical sensor; defense applications; and a state-of-the-art computational electromagnetics simulation platform.


Top row
(left to right): Metamaterial electronically scanned array (MESA); Researchers in the lab; Snapshot of the state-of-the-art applied electromagnetic lab; printed metamaterials RF energy harvesters.

Bottom row (left to right): Demonstration of passive radiative cooling indoor; Rooftop measurements setup at PARC; Antennas for cubesats; Arduino device interacting with metamaterial antennas.

Harnessing high-risk, high-payoff emerging technologies, such as metamaterials, for real-life applications can be a significant challenge to companies. With only academic papers to rely on, companies can become blindsided by emerging technologies. To help our clients capitalize on metamaterials, PARC has assembled a small and highly-coordinated world-class team that evaluates ideas/concepts, brainstorms collectively, builds devices, improves upon existing products, and invents new technology. Underpinned by PARC’s innovation framework and in-house design tools with unparalleled performance, our savvy multidisciplinary team solves very hard problems posed by our clients, and works with them at various stages of product development — ranging from feasibility studies to full system prototype. When given seemingly unsurmountable challenges, the team delivers results — with the freedom to approach, own, and solve problems creatively.

The core competencies of the metamaterials team lie in the design/modeling of metamaterials using proprietary tools (e.g., PARSE, AES, FMS2, DtN, etc.); and fabrication of structures on any surface, flexible or rigid, — using both conventional manufacturing techniques and novel fabrication methods (e.g., printed electronics, additive manufacturing, co-extrusion printing, multi-chip assembler, etc.).

Key Technology Platforms

 
Metamaterials Electronically Scanned Array (MESA)

A low-cost, high-performance RF beam steering module that can be adapted for a broad range of applications, including: collision avoidance system for self-driving cars or drones, broadband satellite internet/radio, hypothermia treatment, wireless communications, etc. The key performance feature of PARC’s MESA is its capability to maintain a high signal-to-noise ratio and high-resolution, simultaneously.

 
Smart Metamaterial Antennas

Highly reconfigurable metamaterial antennas are a natural evolution of the MESA architecture. They are tailored for 4G LTE/5G bay stations and for satellite communications.

 
RF Energy Harvesting Platform

RF Energy Harvesting PlatformAn RF energy harvesting platform that converts Wi-Fi and other RF bands to electricity, to power IoT sensors. It consists of a metamaterial-inspired antenna and a custom rectifying circuit. There are two classes of prototypes that we have demonstrated: hybrid (printed antenna with integrated silicon chips) and all-printed devices. The performance and bandwidth of the RF energy harvesters exceed by at least an order of magnitude that of the state of the art.

 
Probe DetailFocus Magnetic Stimulation (FMS)

In FMS, the magnetic fields are dynamically shaped by injecting phase and amplitude-controlled currents in an array of three-dimensional micron-scale coils. The FMS scheme enables more localized stimulation (enhanced focusing), better depth control, and complex stimulation patterns (beamshaping and beamsteering), as compared to current magnetic/electric stimulation methods. Tailored stimulations can be obtained with appropriate coil array designs, by selecting the optimal number of elements, array configuration, driving circuits, and current distribution in the coils.

 
Multiplexed Bull's EyesThermophotovoltaics (TPV)

The conversion of thermal radiation emitted from a high-temperature source (the emitter) into electricity by means of a PV cell (e.g., GaSb). PARC’s key innovation is a spectrally selective metamaterial emitter that only allows in-band photons to reach the low-bandgap GaSb PV cells for direct electricity conversion. This minimizes thermal losses, which in turn delivers a significant increase in the thermal conversion efficiency.

 
Multispectral Imaging Chemical Sensor

Overhead DiagramA chemical sensor system based on a fundamentally new class of uncooled IR imaging sensor that offers the performance of best-in-class, high-end imaging systems at less than 1/10th the cost. This novel thermal platform architecture is designed to remove the limitations (low-sensitivity and no spectral selectivity) of a traditional microbolometer by altering its absorption characteristics. In this architecture, the thermal platform is tailored to exhibit multi-wavelength narrowband absorptions (<0.2 nm linewidths and close to unity absorption) in the infrared. Wavelength selection facilitates fine discrimination between different gases or hydrocarbons (characterized by broad absorptions in the LWIR) based on their spectral responses in each of the narrow bands.

 
Thermal Barrier

Thermal brarrier, explodedA transparent aerogel polymer material with record low thermal conductivity to prevent thermal losses in single-pane windows. This technology can also be applied as thermal insulation solutions to a variety of industries, including (1) applications where operators or components need to be kept at very stable temperatures (e.g., walls, HVAC ducts, environmental control system (ECS) ducts, etc.); (2) thermal insulation for infrastructure in need of protection from heat (e.g., gas tanks or any other hazardous infrastructure). We also envision the integration of the thermal barrier into reinforced lightweight composite insulation materials, for use as protective coatings of structural components in the automotive, shipboard and aerospace industries.

 
Passive Radiative Cooling

Passive Radiative CoolingLow-cost, low-complexity (single layer), highly-scalable films/coatings that can ”self-cool” in broad daylight, without the need for electricity or water. This is a new class of materials that molds the flow of heat. Passive radiative cooling can be used for a broad range of applications, including cooling of power plants, buildings, satellites, military tents, and supplies in hot desert climates.

 

 

Unique In-House Design Tools

PARC has developed highly-tailored and fast numerical method for computational design and discovery problems in electromagnetics. We have the capability to develop new codes based on specific EM problems and requirements. These methods allow full design space explorations (parsing up to billions of structures in a day), and enable efficient global and local optimizations without human intervention. These new in-house design tools, used in conjunction with commercial code, have been shown to be accurate through experimental verification.

PARSE

PARC’s Advanced Robust Solver for Electromagnetics is a fast frequency domain solver tailored for solving the linear Maxwell’s equations in layered periodic structures. Internally, it has a core Rigorous Coupled Wave Analysis engine [RCWA; also called the Fourier Modal Method (FMM) and the S-matrix algorithm], and makes use of black box optimization algorithms. PARSE can compute transmission, reflection, or absorption spectra of structures composed of periodic, patterned, planar layers. So far, its speed has been unmatched (benchmarked against off-the-shelf and open codes) for problems involving periodic structures and multilayer dielectric stacks (10-100X+ speed improvements). It has been tailored to leverage multi-nodes workstations and GPUs. In PARSE, the EM fields throughout the structure, as well as certain line and volume integrals, can also be obtained. The spectra obtained from the core engine are amenable to local and global optimizations. PARSE uses brute force optimization, which means that it parses billions of structures in a single day, to achieve an analog of inverse design (i.e., figuring out the exact geometry given a desired functionality). PARSE’s framework for shape calculus allows for quickly finding superior, non-intuitive designs.

AES

Absorber Electromagnetic Solver is a tailored Fourier-based solver for radar-absorbing metamaterials, which computes absorption spectrum 130 times faster than commercial electromagnetic solvers. The basis functions in AES are computed once, and then reused for all frequencies, thicknesses, and materials parameters. AES, like all tailored design tools, focuses on a particular problem type (metal-dielectric-metal stacks with top patterned layer). In AES, the expanded currents and fields are directly computed in Fourier domain, i.e., no expensive numerical integrals or Green’s function evaluations are carried out. AES has a fast kernel that can be exploited to quickly and efficiently identify optimal structures (i.e., topology optimization) to achieve desired performance.

FMS2

Focus Magnetic Stimulation Solver is a tailored tool for simulating the magnetic fields of 2D and 3D coils. It was built for designing, modeling, and optimizing PARC’s focused magnetic stimulation (FMS) magnetic micro-coils scheme. Internally, it solves Biot-Savart and Ampère’s law equations quickly and efficiently.

DtN

Dirichlet-to-Neumann map is a domain decomposition scheme. The DtN method is specifically tailored for simulating photonic crystal devices with many repeated unit cells. In DtN, only the fields at the edge of every unit cell of the photonic crystal is stored, as opposed to everywhere in the interior as in a number of EM solvers. This allows DtN to explore very large parameter spaces efficiently, generate statistics about the parameter space, and systematically optimize geometries.

 

 

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