A depiction of gold film covered with light-cancelling silver nano cubes.
Cristian Ciracì A depiction of gold film covered with light-cancelling silver nano cubes.

One of the most intriguing dimensions of nanoscale research concerns the blurring between matter and energy. In recent years, scientists have enthusiastically engaged in the creation of metamaterials—constructs that enable the precise control of energy waves such as light.

In December, researchers at the Duke Pratt School of Engineering in Durham, N.C., announced its development of a new nanocomposite that acts as a super light absorber. The composite is composed of millions of silver nanocubes scattered on top of a layer of gold film with an insulating coating. Since the nanocubes cancel out light reflected from the gold surface, the material acts as a highly-efficient light absorber.

“The nanocubes are literally scattered on the gold film and we can control the properties of the material by varying the geometry of the construct,” said scientist Cristian Ciracì in a Duke University press release. “By combining different components of the metamaterial elements together into a single composite, more complicated reflectance spectra could be engineered, achieving a level of control needed in more exotic applications, such as dynamic inks."

The researchers envision the greatest benefit of this technology being applied to energy-harvesting and sensor technologies, whose efficiency could be dramatically increased by this kind of nano composite.

Blaine Brownell is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.