Multi-disciplinary research in the META group blends experimental and computational nanophotonics, plasmonics, electronics, thermodynamics and mechanics. We are interested in exploring fundamental aspects of energy transfer between quantum emitters, propagating and trapped photons, phonons and electron plasma oscillations (plasmons) as well as in thermodynamics of light trapping and energy conversion and new material engineering. These studies are advancing development of new meso-scale multi-functional devices and materials for applications in light generation, optical information processing, atmospheric water capture, bio(chemical)sensing, heat management in textiles, and solar energy harvesting.

Our research focus areas include: Materials ehnineering for solid-state cooling and headingPhotonic sensing, Complex and structured light, Advanced sustainable fibers & textiles, Renewable energy generation, Photonic design of complex [meta]-materials, and Materials and technologies for space

Materials engineering for solid-state cooling and heating technologies

Building refrigeration is one of the most energy-intensive technology sectors, representing about 20% of overall energy consumption, has low efficiency (below 60%), and is accompanied by significant greenhouse gas emissions. We aim to advance an alternative thermoregulation technology - solid-state cooling/heating based on elastocaloric and twistocaloric effects in composite polymer fibers and yarns. Our objective is to develop strain-activated fibers and textiles for temperature control, dynamic structural changes, energy storage, and thermal conductivity modulation. 

Photonic sensors for biomolecule detection & envinromental monitoring

Bio(chemical) sensors play an outsized role in medical care, biological research, drug development, national security, and environmental monitoring. We are developing new technologies to enable reliable sensors for detection of new viral and bacterial pathogens and environmental pollutants by combining photonic amplification, biological recognition & nano-mechanical forces on nano-photonic and nano-plasmonic chips.


Read: Roadmap on universal photonic biosensors for real-time detection of emerging pathogens

Sustainable fibers & textiles for passive thermoregulation

Conventional fabrics absorb body heat and perspiration, providing fertile ground for bacterial growth. Textile production pollutes water with dangerous toxins, and 73% of fabrics end up in landfills. We are ldeveloping smart sustainable fibers and mono-material multi-functional textiles that passively regulate temperature via control of radiation, thermal conduction, and evaporation, inhibit bacterial growth, save energy and water during fabrication and usage, and can help to reduce and re-use plastic waste.


Read: How to wear green

           Could we recycle plastic bags into fabrics of the future?

Round-the-clock renewable energy generation 

We develop new thermoradiative cells based on flexoelectricity - an internal electric field induced by a strain gradient - for energy harvesting via radiative heat transfer to outer space. Eliminating photovoltage constraints and complex fabrication will enable carbon-neutral nighttime power generation with significant efficiency improvement and cost reduction over conventional infrared photodiodes. We also examine surface-mode-enhanced near-field coupling of thermoradiative cells to heat sinks to boost energy conversion efficiency and generated power density.


Read: Energy generation from heat with a solar cell built backwards

Photonic design of complex optical [meta]-materials 

Materials with complex short-range and long-range order, including quasicrystals and materials with broken inversion and time reversal symmetries, can strongly modify light-matter interactions and enable control of light, radiative heat, linear momentum, and angular momentum transfer. We explore how these complex symmetry-breaking materials enable unique radiative transport phenomena in the far and near field and develop new computational tools to model their non-conventional optical responses and electromagnetic forces.  We also inverse-design new meta-materials and photonic nanostructures to develop platforms for optical sensing, spectroscopy, thermal management, tunability, and object manipulation at short length scales.

Read: Radiative heat and momentum transfer from materials with broken symmetries: opinion

Art@MIT: Novel Optical Metamaterials

Complex, structured, and topological light engineering

We explore and exploit optical fields with unique intensity, polarization, and phase distributions to push the frontiers of nanophotonics and plasmonics research into the emerging area of harnessing and generation of photon angular momentum on micro- and nanoscales. For centuries, singularities in wave fields have been of interest in multiple areas of physics, ranging from plasma physics, fluid dynamics and atmospheric physics. In optics, energy and momentum flow around singularities in the interference field can twist to form vortices, which carry angular momentum. We engineer strong variations of optical fields around optical singularities for light harvesting, bio(chemical) sensing, drug discovery, and nanoscale energy transfer.

Read: Singular and Chiral Nanoplasmonics

Advanced materials for space applications

We design advanced composite materials built for the harsh environment of space. Materials for the use in outer space and on other planets need to be engineered to provide state of the art radiation shielding, adaptive thermal management, and structural stability. They also need to be lightweight and amenable for multi-purpose use and recycling during space missions. We are addressing these challenging tasks with a combination of advanced computer modeling of materials interactions with ionizing radiation, material design and testing, and the development of additive manufacturing technologies that can be used in space. 

3D Knit BioSuit™—a multidisciplinary, collaborative work involving the Media Lab, Architecture Self-Assembly Lab, AeroAstro Human Systems Lab, and ME  Multifunctional Metamaterials Group.