Yoel Fink, 33
It’s an invention that forces you to rethink one of man’s most basic tools: the mirror. No, it’s not a new vanity item. The "perfect mirror" Yoel Fink invented last year as a graduate student at MIT could mean radical new ways of directing and manipulating light. Potential applications range from a flexible light guide for delivering laser light to a specific internal organ, to new devices for optical communications, to coatings for windows that efficiently reflect heat while being transparent.
Fink’s mirror combines the best property of the everyday metallic mirror--its ability to reflect light from all directions--with those of highly specialized dielectric mirrors, widely used in photonics. Like other dielectric mirrors, Fink’s devices can be tuned to reflect only certain wavelengths of light with high efficiency. But Fink found a way to layer the dielectric material so that the mirror can reflect this light from all angles; other dielectric mirrors can’t. What’s more, his techniques for building these "perfect mirrors" are so general the devices can be made from a wide range of materials, including polymers.
Indeed, Fink is trying to exploit a class of polymers, called block copolymers, to create self-organizing optical components. MIT materials science professor Robert Rose says enthusiastically that "Yoel’s approach using soft materials which can be processed inexpensively to form conformable reflectors may bring vast new markets into play."