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Pre-Kymeta Series Part 3: Metamaterials – What Are They Good For?

Despite the limitations inherent to transformation optical structures and invisibility cloaks, the power of metamaterials was nevertheless becoming clear. And bandwidth limitations were not a surprise. For example, just about all microwave devices have limited bandwidth, but with clever engineering much larger effective bandwidths can be obtained in many important devices across the electromagnetic spectrum. The situation is no different with metamaterials: While the individual resonant metamaterial elements have relatively narrow bandwidth, their resonances can be tuned by modifying their geometry, or by modifying the properties of materials close to or embedded in the elements. That means that at any given frequency, each element can be switched on and off or tuned independently, allowing us to create many devices with much larger effective bandwidth than the individual element resonances would imply.

Ultimately, the limitations associated with bandwidth and absorption depend on the type of metamaterial structure one is trying to create. Negative index materials and cloaking structures both suffer from large absorption and narrow bandwidth, but are only possible because of metamaterials. Consequently, though they have severe limitations, the very existence of these unusual artificial materials proves the power of metamaterials.

Over the next couple of years, Dr. Smith, Sir John Pendry and several other physicists continued their work with metamaterials, gaining an increasing breadth of knowledge on the subject. In 2008 Nathan Kundtz PhD, at the time a doctoral candidate at Duke University and later the founder, CEO and President of Kymeta, joined Dr. Smith’s team.

When Dr. Kundtz started in the Duke Physics lab, he was very interested in the work the Duke team was doing with transformation optics, but also hoped eventually to use the metamaterials concepts in more practical structures. The project Dr. Smith and Dr. Kundtz pursued balanced Dr. Kundtz’s interests—applying transformation optics to imaging. The pair arrived at something called the flattened Luneburg lens—an idea first suggested by another of Dr. Smith’s former postdoctoral associate, David Schurig (now at the University of Utah). The Luneburg lens is a spherical lens that is considered an ideal optical instrument, but its spherical shape makes it difficult to integrate with planar detectors (such as Charge Coupled Devices (CCD) arrays). Dr. Kundtz took the theory, designed the material using the techniques Dr. Smith had used for cloaking, fabricated the sample himself and then performed the measurements. By the time of his graduation, Dr. Kundtz had completed numerous transformation optics experiments, and was an expert in all aspects of metamaterials.

With a Masters in Electrical Engineering and PhD in Physics, Dr. Kundtz was well qualified to take on the task of forging a path towards the commercialization of metamaterials. His work at Duke covered low-temperature condensed matter physics as well as metamaterials and microwave devices. The award-winning doctoral research Dr. Kundtz did while at Duke provided the basis upon which Kymeta would later be founded.

Dr. Kundtz’s experience in metamaterials at Duke, along with his clear vision to develop a business model based on metamaterials, led to his recruitment to Intellectual Ventures in Bellevue, WA. There, he joined a fierce business development team over at Intellectual Ventures (IV), which included Casey Tegreene, Eben Frankenberg, Todd McIntyre and Russell Hannigan—all who played a major role in performing early market studies and determining the first potential products. While at IV, Dr. Kundtz developed the first prototype of the reconfigurable metasurface antenna (MSA), which was the precursor to Kymeta mTenna™ technology. Not only was the metasurface antenna a viable product, it has turned out to be a remarkable architecture for a new class of antenna, with so many advantageous features it can rightfully be considered a disruptive technology. Dr. Kundtz has amassed more than 40 patents and patent applications as well as over 30 peer reviewed publications.

The business expertise available at IV, coupled with the scientific research that Dr. Smith and Dr. Kundtz performed was what truly laid the roadmap for Kymeta. The success of this technology at Intellectual Ventures ultimately led to the spin-out of Kymeta Corporation in August 2012.



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