Designing the building blocks of artificially engineered materials, known as metamaterials, just got easier. Metamaterials are built from small engineered structures that, in some ways, mimic the role of atoms, and can manipulate light in ways not seen in nature. The conducting materials used to make them are central to their efficiency. Energy is lost by conversion of light to heat in the metallic components and the support materials. Gold and silver are known to be relatively good building block materials and now we have a way to predict which other materials could work even better. Materials with a lower optical resistivity at the wavelength of the light are key, but geometry has an effect too. For example, graphene, one atomic layer thick graphite, would work well if not for being unobtainable at greater thicknesses. Superconductors may also have merit, although their properties are entirely different. This work provides a tool to select materials with optimum optical properties for use in metamaterials. The potential impact could be huge, because of the considerable efficiency improvements that are possible.
A Comparison of Graphene, Superconductors and Metals as Conductors for Metamaterials and Plasmonics