Researchers Invent New Way to Control Electromagnetic Waves in 3-Dimensional Space

Raymond Rumpf, Ph.D., director of the EM Lab at The University of Texas at El Paso, and his team have developed a way to control electromagnetic waves in three-dimensional space using 3-D printed plastic metamaterials, manmade materials engineered to have superior properties.

“I am convinced that 3-D printing is going to revolutionize manufacturing, and electromagnetics is going to be very 3-D in the coming decades,” said Rumpf who explained that the invention will lead to circuit boards becoming 3-D rather than 2-D. “So we’re going to need to know how to control the waves in 3-D.”

With the help of Javier Pazos and Cesar R. Garcia, electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. candidates, the team designed a complex geometrical plastic lattice – printed with a 3-D printer at UTEP’s W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation – that is able to control electromagnetic waves in 3-D printed systems.

“When you fold electromagnetics into three dimensions, the components interfere with one another, and it becomes a confusing electromagnetic mess where nothing will work – like when a lightning storm produces static while you’re listening to an AM radio station, ” said Rumpf, who is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UTEP. “We have figured out how to control the fields and flow the waves so that there is no interference.”

Typical metamaterials are made of metal that waste much of the energy in the waves, but the researchers were able to use inexpensive plastic to avoid energy loss and keep the cost extremely low.

The team’s findings were recently published in the journal Progress in Electromagnetics Research (PIER).

Rumpf is an internationally recognized pioneer in advanced electromagnetics. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Central Florida, and his bachelor’s and master’s from the Florida Institute of Technology.

In 2010 he was awarded a prestigious two-year $300,000 grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to conduct the study.