New 'left-handed' material getting curiouser


By Rory McGee, Inside Science News Service . 03.24.00


Physicists at the University of California at San Diego this week announced the creation of a strange new material which could add a new dimension to cellular communication.


While it doesn't have a name yet, the material generated lots of interest at the American Physical Society meeting this week in Minneapolis. Sheldon Schultz and David Smith are co-leaders of the UCSD team that created the material, which obeys the laws of physics but shows some very surprising properties as well.


Smith and Schultz have created, for the first time, what is called a "left-handed" material.


All other materials, like glass, plastic, and concrete are "right-handed." Left-handed materials have the ability to bend microwaves (similar to those used by cellular phones) in the opposite direction as normal, right-handed, materials. This means that the UCSD team has created a material, using copper rings and wire, that has properties completely different from other materials.


Schultz says he and his team are still exploring the implications of their discovery.


"This is Alice in Wonderland, the effects get curiouser and curiouser," Schultz said.


Other scientists confirm that the ripples from this research will be far-reaching.


"This is a new regime," said Walter Kohn, a Nobel laureate in Chemistry.


Schultz expects this research to open up a new subdiscipline in physics, with scientists looking into a great array of possible applications, including improvements to the cellular communication industry.


"I would be surprised if this doesn't lead to some very interesting applications," says Kohn. ez