LONDON (TIP): Scientists have found that materials which make an invisibility cloak a real-life possibility can perform advanced mathematical calculations, paving way for development of a new kind of analogue computer. An international team of researchers has found that so-called metamaterials, which can alter the properties of light waves often to render an object invisible, could perform mathematical operations as well. Nader Engheta, at the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues decided to explore a different use for metamaterials, one that adapts the old idea of analogue computing.
Analogue computers were limited in precision by the materials available at the time — for example, anything requiring moving parts for computation was limited by how small those parts could be made. But metamaterials, which rely mainly on light, have no such constraints. Engheta’s team has simulated a metamaterial capable of calculus functions like differentiation and integration, and other fundamental mathematical tools, ‘New Scientist’ reported. The metamaterial computer works because light waves can draw mathematical curves in space, akin to a graph. In calculus, differentiation describes the slope of that curve at various points, while integration gives the area under the curve. The team’s metamaterial block can perform these calculations by modifying the light wave’s profile.