Exeter physicist makes metamaterials from surfboard foam

Aug. 6, 2012
Exeter, England--A University of Exeter scientist has finally united his two very different pastimes.

Exeter, England--A University of Exeter scientist has finally united his two very different pastimes. He's discovered that the foam inside his surfboards makes an ideal base for microwave metamaterials.

For his work, Matt Lockyear needed to find a material that is uniformly dense and behaves in a similar way to air in response to electromagnetic radiation. He discovered that the foam inside his surfboards was ideal for his experiments. Luckily, his friend Tris Cokes owns the Redruth-based surfboard blank manufacturing company Homeblown. Tris was able to provide him with samples of the material, and then lent him the factory to test the loading of the foams with high-refractive-index powders.

“I never thought I’d be able to combine my passion for physics with my love of surfing -- usually one competes with the other," says Lockyear. "But the foam inside the boards I’ve been riding for all these years has proved absolutely perfect for my research. I was having a discussion with a colleague regarding suitable materials for the project whilst looking at one of Tris’s foam blanks propped up against the office wall, which I had been meaning to turn into a 6ft 10 single-fin pintail. I am also very lucky to have an office opposite the theory guys who, quite literally, wrote the book on transformation optics.”

Lockyear works as a Research Fellow in the Electromagnetic and Acoustic Materials Group in Physics. His research focuses on metamaterials. He has recently built what he describes as a "surface-wave black hole" using the surfboard foam. He created a circle of material that has a radially graded refractive index and placed it on the surface of a metamaterial. The radiation propagating across the metamaterial was then refracted, spiraling inwards to an absorbing core. Lockyear is now working on a surface-wave invisibility cloak as a stepping stone to his current research project’s ultimate goal, a free-space 3D invisibility cloak.

Lockyear’s interests include stealth materials, lightweight flexible ultrathin radar absorbers, cloaking, beam steering, smart antennas, electronic tagging and frequency selective wallpaper, and surfing.

About the Author

John Wallace | Senior Technical Editor (1998-2022)

John Wallace was with Laser Focus World for nearly 25 years, retiring in late June 2022. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics at Rutgers University and a master's in optical engineering at the University of Rochester. Before becoming an editor, John worked as an engineer at RCA, Exxon, Eastman Kodak, and GCA Corporation.

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