Victor Veselago and the unfolding revolution in optics

In the year 1968, the Russian physicist Victor Veselago wrote a visionary paper that eventually came to hold the key to revolutionize the field of optics and, in a sense, of electromagnetic theory itself. In a few pages of amazingly simple reasoning he told the world that a negative value of the refractive index of a medium is not incompatible with Maxwell’s fundamental equations, and then went on to predict a number of remarkable consequences of this result. Thirty five years after the publication of Veselago’s paper, John Pendry, and a handful of other physicists and material scientists, opened the door to the actual realization of the stupendous possibilities implied in the Veselago paper , the result of which is now unfolding in the form of history in the making. It is now a near certainty that the science of optics, in particular, is going to have to be re-written or, at the very least, to be supplemented with what may be fittingly termed meta-optics – optics based on metamaterials.

I wonder if there are other such instances of fundamental discoveries in physics, say, in the last two centuries, lying almost unnoticed for such long stretches of time, only to be revived later into blossoming fields of creative activity. Or, in other areas in science too. I will welcome comments on this from other visitors to this site.

Incidentally, the current revolution in optics is now a three-cornered affair, involving meta-optics, quantum optics, and nonlinear optics.

An interesting sidelight: Jagadish Chandra Bose was perhaps the first physicist to have actually experimented, around a hundred years ago, with a metamaterial – one made of twisted jute fibers – an artificially engineered material having a novel response to electromagnetic waves.

07. February 2013 by Avijit Lahiri
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