Transformation Optics and Subwavelength Control of Light

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Science  03 Aug 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6094, pp. 549-552
DOI: 10.1126/science.1220600

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Transforming Optical Transformations

Recent developments in optics and materials have seen interactions between light and matter move to the subwavelength regime. Pendry et al. (p. 549) review how transformation optics has provided a general platform for controlling and manipulating light, literally transforming the field of optics. The coordinate system that the electric and magnetic components of the light field “feel” can be transformed through materials design by giving rise to exotic optical phenomena such as cloaking, negative refraction, and energy harvesting.


Our intuitive understanding of light has its foundation in the ray approximation and is intimately connected with our vision. As far as our eyes are concerned, light behaves like a stream of particles. We look inside the wavelength and study the properties of plasmonic structures with dimensions of just a few nanometers, where at a tenth or even a hundredth of the wavelength of visible light the ray picture fails. We review the concept of transformation optics that manipulates electric and magnetic field lines, rather than rays; can provide an equally intuitive understanding of subwavelength phenomena; and at the same time can be an exact description at the level of Maxwell’s equations.

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