Metamaterial 3D printed for wireless devices

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By using an electrically conductive material compatible with a standard 3D printer, researchers at Duke University have 3D printed electromagnetic metamaterials. They claim the discovery could revolutionise the rapid design and prototyping of radio frequency applications such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, wireless sensing and communications devices.

Metamaterials can be tailored to have unnatural properties such as bending light backwards, focusing electromagnetic waves onto multiple areas and absorbing specific wavelengths of light. But previous efforts have been constrained to 2D circuit boards, limiting their effectiveness and abilities.

"There are a lot of complicated 3D metamaterial structures that people have imagined, designed and made in small numbers to prove they could work," said Professor Steve Cummer.

"The challenge in transitioning to these more complicated designs has been the manufacturing process. With the ability to do this on a common 3D printer, anyone can build and test a potential prototype in a matter of hours with relatively little cost."

The key to making 3D printed electromagnetic metamaterials a reality was finding the right conductive material to run through a commercial 3D printer. Such printers usually use plastics, which conduct electricity badly.

The research team created a 3D printable material that it claims is 100 times more conductive than anything currently on the market. Not only is ‘Electrifi’ conductive enough to create a 3D printed electromagnetic metamaterial, it interacts with radio waves almost as strongly as traditional metamaterials made with pure copper.

In addition, according to the researchers, the results show that the 3D printed metamaterial cubes interact with electromagnetic waves 14 times better than their 2D counterparts.

By printing numerous cubes, each tailored to specifically interact with an electromagnetic wave in a certain way, and combining them like building blocks, researchers could potentially build new devices.