April 09, 2010
Having overslept, I rushed to the first talk this morning on metamaterials and fortunately caught the second half of the invited talk on superlens. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed that Prof. Xiang Zhang didn't come to give the presentation himself, but the speaker who substituted him did a very good job in describing the groundbreaking work on subwavelength imaging using metamaterials. Sometimes, big names in science are chased after the same as celebrities are in Hollywood. The difference is that the former is mostly about substance while the latter is mostly about style.
Metamaterials has easily grabbed attention of mass media mostly because of its theoretical possiblity of producing invisibility cloaks, a mainstay of science fictions and fantasy novels; just think about Harry Porter's invisibility cloak. However, a less charming concept, superlens, was much more likely to be realized in practice in near term. The idea of seeing nanometer sized objects using visible light is thrilling enough to anyone working on nanomaterials. In addition to that, as one move away from electron microscopy to optical microscopy, common spectroscopy tools becomes powerful accessory to the superlens. One might imagine that UV-Vis-IR spectroscopy becomes available in a optical superlens, just as the way that a EDX does in a electron microscopy. This is exactly what the second speaker of the session demonstrated: a way to combine infrared superlens microscopy and infrared spectroscopy so that one obtains shape information as well as compositional information at the same time.
Once again, seeing physicists and electrical engineers playing around fascinating concepts like invisibility cloaks and superlens, I cannot help but wondering what a synthetic chemist can contribute to this field?