Editorial Feature

What is Transformation Optics?

Transformation optics was introduced by Professor Sir John Pendry in 2006 as a branch of physics that deals with the transformation of electromagnetic fields to control the flow of light in unconventional ways. This article discusses transformation optics and metamaterials, their applications and recent relevant studies.

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Transformation Optics

Transformation optics (TO), inspired by mathematical concepts like conformal mapping, is a theoretical framework that allows electromagnetic fields’ transformation to map the space around an object in a way that guides the electromagnetic waves along desired paths. Transformation optics is based on the idea of an optical metric, which is a mathematical construct that characterizes the paths of light rays in a given medium.

The light can be bent or guided around an object in unique ways by manipulating this optical metric through metamaterials, altering the occupied space to achieve the desired optical effects.

What are Metamaterials?

Metamaterials are the building blocks of transformation optics, artificially engineered to exhibit unique optical properties through the careful arrangement of subwavelength structures. These structures are smaller than the wavelength of the incident electromagnetic waves, allowing the material to interact with the waves in unique ways, enabling scientists to tailor light behavior, radio waves, and other forms of electromagnetic radiation with high precision.

Applications of Transformation Optics

The applications of transformation optics and metamaterials are very diverse. Optical cloaking, for instance, is achieved by designing metamaterials to manipulate light around an object, which makes the object invisible to the naked eye. Although this invisibility cloak technology is in its initial stages, it has potential applications in many fields, including military stealth technology, surveillance, consumer electronics, etc.

Scientists have overcome the limitations of traditional lenses that prevent them from imaging objects smaller than the wavelength of light by introducing metamaterial-based superlenses, which have opened new scopes in microscopy and nanotechnology.

Similarly, transformation optics has applications in telecommunications, where the precise control of electromagnetic waves is crucial for efficient signal processing. For instance, metamaterial-based devices enabled scientists to create compact and powerful antennas, waveguides, and other components.

Recent Studies

Transformation Optics in Nanophotonics

In a recent study published in Nature Communications, researchers explored the synergy between transformation optics and topology in plasmonic systems. They demonstrated how hidden symmetries in the virtual space can be decoded to understand the topological transitions in real space by introducing the concept of virtual space from TO. The researchers designed a conformal mapping with singularities to construct a correlated plasmonic system leveraging the TO-inspired virtual space. The topological invariant of the system was controlled by these singularities, allowing for the engineering of edge states.

The study showcased how the combination of transformation optics and topology provides a novel approach to understanding and tailoring the behavior of light in complex nanostructures. This methodology could extend beyond photonics to explore topological features in other waves.

Transforming Flat Metamaterial Luneburg Lens

In another 2022 study, researchers explored the application of transformation optics in flat metamaterial Luneburg lens (LL) antennas, aiming for volume reduction and improved beam steering. The study identified a limitation in existing TO-based LLs, where the focus shifted away from the lens surface, resulting in reduced volume reduction and increased spillover loss.

The researchers proposed a TO-based LL antenna with zero focal length by addressing phase mismatch caused by space discontinuity. Theoretical analysis revealed that transforming the LL without maintaining the original boundary degraded its focusing property. The proposed flat metamaterial LL antenna, fabricated using integrated 3D printing, achieved a 1/3 reduction in thickness while demonstrating a ±20° beam scanning range. The study emphasized the importance of phase matching at the radiation boundary for maintaining original focusing properties in electromagnetic problems like dielectric lenses.

Conformal Transformation Optics for Horn Antenna Enhancement

Researchers utilized conformal transformation optics (CTO) to improve the directivity of an H-plane horn antenna by designing a graded-index all-dielectric lens in a 2021 study published in Scientific Reports. The CTO method was applied to gradually eliminate phase errors at the aperture, resulting in a low-profile, high-gain lens antenna. The transformation ensured the avoidance of singular index values and rescaled the optical path within the lens to eliminate superluminal regions.

The fabricated lens prototype, produced through 3D printing, demonstrated a significant improvement in realized gain (1.5–2.4 dB) compared to a reference H-plane horn. This innovative approach overcomes common shortcomings associated with CTO and quasi-conformal TO (QCTO), such as refractive index mismatches and superluminal regions, by employing an analytical transformation and addressing these issues through optical path rescaling.

Challenges and Future Prospects

Large-scale metamaterials fabrication with the required precision is a significant engineering challenge that needs to be addressed if metamaterials are to be used for the vast applications discussed above. Moreover, the metamaterials often exhibit narrow bandwidths, which limit their effectiveness to specific ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum. These challenges can be overcome in the future by advancements in nanofabrication techniques and material science to develop new and enhanced fabrication techniques.


In conclusion, transformation optics has the potential to modify the field of optics due to the ability to control and manipulate electromagnetic fields in unusual ways, opening opportunities to develop technologies like invisible cloaks. The journey from theoretical concepts to real-world applications of metamaterials and transformation optics is challenging, but it has the potential to deliver new technological possibilities.

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References and Further Reading

Bilotti, F., Tricarico, S., & Vegni, L. (2009). Plasmonic metamaterial cloaking at optical frequencies. IEEE Transactions on Nanotechnology. https://doi.org/10.1109/TNANO.2009.2025945

Cai, W., Chettiar, U. K., Kildishev, A. V., & Shalaev, V. M. (2007). Optical cloaking with metamaterials. Nature photonics. https://doi.org/10.1038/nphoton.2007.28

Eskandari, H., Albadalejo-Lijarcio, J. L., Zetterstrom, O., Tyc, T., & Quevedo-Teruel, O. (2021). H-plane horn antenna with enhanced directivity using conformal transformation optics. Scientific Reports. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-93812-6

Kildishev, A. V., & Shalaev, V. M. (2011). Transformation optics and metamaterials. Physics-Uspekhi. https://doi.org/10.3367/ufne.0181.201101e.0059

Lu, L., Ding, K., Galiffi, E., Ma, X., Dong, T., & Pendry, J. B. (2021). Revealing topology with transformation optics. Nature Communications. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-27008-x

Xu, R., & Chen, Z. N. (2022). A transformation-optics-based flat metamaterial Luneburg lens antenna with zero focal length. IEEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/TAP.2021.3137528

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Taha Khan

Written by

Taha Khan

Taha graduated from HITEC University Taxila with a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering. During his studies, he worked on several research projects related to Mechanics of Materials, Machine Design, Heat and Mass Transfer, and Robotics. After graduating, Taha worked as a Research Executive for 2 years at an IT company (Immentia). He has also worked as a freelance content creator at Lancerhop. In the meantime, Taha did his NEBOSH IGC certification and expanded his career opportunities.  


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