Quantum Matter and Metamaterials

Imagine a war zone where soldiers could make themselves invisible to the enemy. It sounds like a science-fiction scenario, but our quantum physicists are working to develop an ‘invisibility cloak’ to do just that.

Quantum matter and metamaterials

We have developed the first macroscopic example of a material capable of hiding from view a small object by bending light waves around it. These novel materials – known as metamaterials (materials engineered to have electromagnetic properties that may not be found in Nature) – diffuse light so that even the target’s shadow is obscured.

This groundbreaking research is led by Shuang Zhang, Professor of Metamaterials in the School of Physics and Astronomy, who in 2010 won the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics award in optics for his pioneering work on optical metamaterials.

To date, only very small objects have been rendered invisible – we have made a paper clip disappear – but we are among the world’s leading quantum scientists working towards making objects as large as human beings appear invisible.

Using the same science, we are also developing ways to enable biologists to detect and therefore analyse viruses earlier, and to analogue certain astrophysics phenomena, such as black holes.

Manipulating matter so that it behaves unnaturally – but to our benefit – is also done through ‘cold atom’ science: cooling atomic matter to almost absolute zero – 0 Kelvin degrees or -273.15C – to bring about a change in its behaviour.

Kai Bongs, Professor of Professor of Cold Atom Physics, and his team at the School of Physics and Astronomy, have developed this research to be – almost literally – groundbreaking: Mapping the Underworld, a multi-million pound research project led by Birmingham’s Chris Rogers, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering, aims to find ways to locate pipes and cables beneath our streets without the need for excavation.

Using matter waves – made by exploiting the particle wave duality of an atom – which react to gravity, we are able to detect objects and other matter where even 3D sensing technology cannot. Although still in its developmental stage, we are working on so-called fifth sensor technology to aid archaeologists and civil engineers.


  • We have developed new types of materials with electromagnetic properties that have the potential to revolutionise the field, with huge translational possibilities.
  •  We are EU leaders in developing a highly novel gravitometer that will be capable of detecting minute changes in gravity, enhancing our ability to detect anything from new soil reserves to archaeological treasure.
  • Quantum devices based around the cold atom science allows for precision measurements. We are developing novel compact atomic clocks that surpass current time standards by orders of magnitude and might boost the next generation, high-speed communication networks and satellite navigation.