Calculus Performed on Light Waves
Metamaterials, with their unnatural properties, have been associated with many intriguing technologies, including flat lenses and invisibility cloaks. Now they may be associated with future, analog computers, thanks to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Sannio.
Analog computers are not a new technology and actually predate digital computers, but were out competed as integrated circuits dropped in size and increased in speed. As powerful and advanced as digital computers have become though, there are still some functions an analog computer could do better and faster. Such functions include image processing and calculus, as a digital computer has to take the time to digitize points of data, while an analog computer can operate on an entire curve. To bring analog computers to the present, the researchers developed metamaterials with the ability to perform functions on entire light wave profiles. The specific function the researchers integrated into a virtual metamaterial for their experiment was the derivative in calculus, so the wave profile that left the metamaterial was the first derivative of the wave profile that entered it.
The next step in this research will be to actually built and test such metamaterials, which could eventually be built into a variety of devices. For example, a camera could use them for edge detection, without first having to convert the image to an electronic signal.
Source: University of Pennsylvania