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Imperial physicist receives European award for outstanding research

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-Department of Physics
External Sites:
-The Descartes Prize
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For immediate release
Friday 2 December 2005

A major European prize recognising outstanding scientific research is awarded today to Professor Sir John Pendry Opens in new window of Imperial College London.

Professor Pendry is a member of the international EXEL team that receives the Descartes Prize for Research awarded by the European Commission. The Prize recognises the five-strong team for its development of a new class of artificial metamaterials, known as Negative Index Materials (NIMs), which have the potential to overturn familiar understandings of the properties of light. Professor Pendry says:

Professor Sir John Pendry, part of the Descartes Prize-winning EXEL team

"I am of course delighted that our team has won this prize. It seems particularly appropriate because we are working on a new sort of optical material which refracts light in a completely different fashion from any other class of material, and it was Descartes, along with Snell, who first proposed the fundamental laws of refraction."

Professor Pendry's discovery that a material's normal response to electromagnetic fields can be reversed leading to negative values for the refractive index has many potential applications. Most notable of these is the proposal for the 'perfect lens', which has a resolution unlimited by wavelength. Professor Pendry explains:

"Conventional curved lenses suffer from one significant limitation they are unable to resolve detail that is finer than the wavelength of the radiation itself. This means that near-field radiation, which decays within about one wavelength distance from its propagation, is lost."

NIM lenses eliminate this and are able to produce perfectly detailed images of objects placed within one wavelength of their surface. The EXEL team believes this could be developed to achieve focal point sizes of only a few nanometers.

In addition to this, the EXEL team has shown how the ability to focus radio waves could lead to smaller, better-performing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. Other potential uses include miniaturised NIMs that could be built into antennas and waveguides 100 times smaller and much lighter than currently available, transforming design in sectors such as mobile communications and aeronautical systems.

Congratulating the team, Professor Sir Peter Knight Opens in new window, Principal of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, said: "John is the leading theorist in optical materials in the world today and his ground-breaking research on metamaterials and imaging promises to transform the field of optics. His colleagues also report that his innovative approaches and willingness to listen make him a pleasure to collaborate with, so I'm delighted to congratulate both him and the rest of the EXEL team on this great honour."

The Descartes Prize is awarded yearly by the Science and Society programme of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research. It recognises outstanding scientific or technological results from European collaborative research in any field of science and carries a total award of ¬1 million. This year's Prize is shared between five pan-European teams.

For further information contact:

Abigail Smith
Imperial College London Press Office
Tel: 020 7594 6701

Notes to editors:

About Professor Sir John Pendry

Professor Pendry's early work focused on surfaces and photonics, particularly photonic band gaps.

His previous appointments were at Bell Labs, USA, Cavendish laboratory, Cambridge, and Daresbury Laboratory, Cheshire. He took his MA and PhD at Downing College, Cambridge. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of the Institute of Physics in 1984. He was knighted in The Queen's 2004 Birthday Honours.

He has held all the senior scientific appointments possible at the College: Dean of the Royal College of Science from 1993-1996; Head of the Department of Physics from 1998-2001 and first Principal of the Faculty of Physical Sciences from 2001-2002.

About the EXEL team

The EXEL team is made up of:
John Pendry, Imperial College London, UK.
Costas Soukoulis, Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser, Foundation for Research and Technology, Greece.
Ekmel Ozbay, Bilkent University, Turkey.
Martin Wegener, University of Karlsruhe/DFG-Centre for Functional Nanostructures, Germany.
David Smith, Duke University, USA.

About Imperial College London

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