Clear signal

Scientists from Queen Mary, University of Londonare developing the next generation of small, lightweight avionics antennas using novel materials.

The three-year, £3.4m AMULET (Advanced Materials for Ubiquitous Leading-edge Electromagnetic Technologies) project has received £1.9m in funding from the Technology Strategy Board’s Collaborative Research and Development programme.

The work follows on from research at QMUL into ways to optimise antenna of wearable communications devices to reduce signal fade caused by positioning and movement.

Project partners include the National Physical Laboratory, antenna system specialists ERA Technology, part of aerospace company Cobham, and Vector Fields, creators of software for modelling and analysing electromagnetic equipment and effects.

The group will attempt to design and manufacture next generation broadband, multifunctional, adaptive and conformal antennas for aerospace communication systems.

At radio frequencies, everyday objects refract and reflect radiowaves in the same way that glass and mirrors do with normal light.

The QMUL team aims produce artificial structures that control these refractions and reflections, creating materials that enable users to see around corners, or cloaking materials for aircraft that can make them seem invisible.

They said that the first application of the materials will be to allow the creation of low-drag antennas on aircraft, saving on fuel and making them greener.

‘We are aiming to develop a lightweight, small antenna with good performance,’ said Professor Yang Hao from Queen Mary’s Department of Electronic Engineering. ‘If you put an antenna close to a metal surface its efficiency will be reduced. However, this is exactly what you must do on an aircraft, meaning you need an artificial material – also referred to as metamaterial – to separate the antenna from the metallic body.’

Hao said that the team were working on metamaterials consisting of an array of small resonating particles which could be modified in order to create the desired properties for a high performance antenna.

‘At the moment, the metamaterials have several constraints, loss is high and bandwidth is small. This means that cloaking devices are not perfect as you can see black spots,’ said Hao. ‘We hope to solve this problem to make the materials more practical for industrial use – it could one day be used with active and nanomaterials. We could also expand the technology to optical frequencies to create perfect lenses with no diffraction limit.’