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Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

Alexandra Boltasseva, 33

Using semiconductors to steer light

Purdue University

Credit: Anna Knott

PROBLEM: Metamaterials, a new class of artificial materials that can affect light in ways not possible in nature, open the door to things like real-life invisibility cloaks and computers that use photons instead of electrons. But current metamaterials absorb or scatter too much light to make such devices practical.

SOLUTION: Alexandra ­Boltasseva, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University, is replacing the metals normally used in metamaterials with semiconductors, such as zinc oxide, that have been doped with aluminum or gallium. Doping the semiconductor makes it behave more like the metals used in metamaterials, but without the associated optical losses. Currently, these doped semiconductors are suitable for manipulating infrared light, and Boltasseva is working on developing formulations that will work with visible light. Another advantage of these materials is that their properties can be altered by applying an electric field, which would make them suitable for applications such as communications and computing.

"We are talking about a whole new generation of devices that are based on new principles of manipulating light," she says. —David Talbot

2011 TR35 Winners

Solomon Assefa

Replacing wires with light in chips

Christopher Bettinger (video)

Tailoring polymers for biodegradable implants

Alexandra Boltasseva

Using semiconductors to steer light

Jennifer Dionne (video)

Solar cells that see more light

Dae-Hyeong Kim

Stretchable electronics for medical devices

Fengnian Xia (video)

Replacing silicon with graphene

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