We propose to take advantage of the tunable, isotropic properties of Liquid Crystals (LCs) to design two different models for a tunable, LC-based metamaterial (LCM) device. This device will be designed with optimal materials and structures to operate within the visible-to-near-IR spectrum with (a) the capability to tune to multiple wavelengths, (b) the ability to respond to and function with different polarizations of light, and (c) the capability to serve multiple EM attributes such as negative refraction and hyperbolic dispersion. Two different LCM models will be developed in Phase I: (1) LC sandwiched by Uniaxial Anisotropic Metamaterial (UAM), and (2) placing Metal-Dielectric (MD) nanorods in an LC medium. The first design will achieve tunability through variations in an applied electric field to adjust the orientation of the LC medium. The second design will achieve tunability by changing the temperature of the device through changes in an applied voltage across external layers. These two models will be designed using Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Finite Element Method (FEM) techniques in order to assign specific optical properties. Modeling with specific optical properties will allow us to conduct Electromagnetic (EM) simulations to find characteristics such as absorption, transmission, and reflection properties of the LCM device. These designs will be optimized to operate with low Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP) in order to be easily implemented into systems operating in low-resource environments. This SWaP capability will allow our device to be useful to NASA as an absorber to develop optical filters and spectrometers. At the end of Phase I, we will fabricate an initial prototype and full fabrication and characterization will be done in Phase II.
The LCM’s SWaP capabilities make it ideal for optical components of telescopes or satellites. The LCM’s tunability through external stimuli and metamaterial properties allow for absorption optical filtering which allows us to design a spectrometer in satellite systems. The Iris V2 CubeSat Deep-Space Transponder could implement the LCM for reconfigurable software and firmware in optical communications. An LCM spectrometer could modulate light for the Euclid or Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope to filter light to observe exoplanets.
Satellites and communication systems could use our SWaP-inspired LCM for light modulation, super-resolution, sensing, and beam steering for optical communications. High resolution imaging enables weather monitoring and medical imaging and diagnosis. Tunable LCMs could replace standard spectrometers for chemists and biologists to detect chemicals and malignancy in biological cells or tissue.