UT scientist wins national research award


A University of Texas scientist who is a pioneer in making things disappear has won one of the nation’s top prizes for young researchers.

Andrea Alù, who has developed cloaking technology to make objects invisible to sensors, was named Thursday as the recipient of the Waterman Award, offered annually by the National Science Foundation to an outstanding young researcher.

Awardees are selected based on originality and innovation of their research and their overall impact on the field. As part of the award, Alù, 36, will receive $1 million over five years to continue his research.

Alù, a professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering, specializes in how light interacts with the surface of objects, a field known as plasmonics.

Among his achievements is the development of technology that “bends” electromagnetic waves around objects so they are not detected.

In 2012, Alù’s research group at UT was able to show for the first time the invisibility of a three-dimensional object, using radio waves, according to a news release about the award. (The object was still visible to the human eye.)

A UT news release described the science of the experiment like this: Normally, waves bounce off the surface of an object. In the case of visible-spectrum light waves, that interaction is what allows a human to see an object. When Alù’s group applied its artificial-material cloak to a cylinder, waves went through as if the object were not there, making it invisible to radar and other technologies that sense radio waves. The team’s measurements showed total transparency, even for viewing at different angles or from a very close position. If a cloaked object were placed between an observer and an approaching radio wave, the observer would see the wave, but not the object.

In an interview, Alù said that he has mostly experimented with objects less than a foot long. Theoretically, though, the artificial material he has been working with — a mix of metals, glass, or other components — could be used to camouflage hot spots on airplanes, such as engines and wings, from being detected by radar, he said. But he said he’s concentrating on applications involving medical imaging.

“I do not know of other researchers who have introduced as many seminal concepts in engineering, applied physics, electromagnetics and optics as he has at this stage in his career,” said Ahmed Tewfik, who is chair of Alú’s department and who nominated him for the prize.


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