John Pendry, creator of the 'perfect lens', wins Julius Springer Prize for Applied Physics

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Sir John Pendry, whose work includes that on fabricating a theoretically perfect lens, has won this year’s Julius Springer Prize for Applied Physics.

Pendry is a pioneer in the field of optical metamaterial science and his work has created materials with electromagnetic properties that provide greater control of light.

He introduced a method of creating a lens whose focus is theoretically perfect. This ‘perfect lens’, whose resolution is unlimited by wavelength, utilises negative refraction to allow limitless data storage.

The award, accompanied by US$5,000, will be presented on 18 October 2013 at the Magnus Haus of the German Physical Society in Berlin, Germany.

The perfect lens uses metamaterials to go beyond the diffraction limit, and means that image resolution is not limited by wavelength, but by the quality of the material the lens is made from. Pendry proposed a thin slab of negative refractive metamaterial might overcome the limitations of traditional lenses.

Metals such as silver show this effect of negative refraction, but an optical version of the lens is harder to engineer. As yet, the group doesn’t have a fully 3D negatively refracting optical material, at least not one that is capable of sub-wavelength operation.

A version of the perfect lens in silver has been built by the Xiang group in Berkeley and the Blaikie group in Canterbury, New Zealand. Both groups have demonstrated imaging on a scale of a few tens of nanometres.

Pendry’s research has also led to the development of the first working prototype cloaking device, also known as the ‘invisibility cloak’. This device renders an object invisible to radar waves. Instead of striking and reflecting off the object, the waves flow smoothly around it as if it were not there, giving the illusion of transparency.

Pendry received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 1969 and worked at Bell Laboratories from 1972-1973. He has held his professorship in the Blackett Laboratory (Imperial College, London) since 1981. In 1998 he became the head of the Physics Department and is currently the Chair in Theoretical Solid State Physics. He was knighted (Knight Bachelor) in 2004 and was named a Fellow of the Optical Society of America in 2005.

The Julius Springer Prize for Applied Physics recognises researchers who have made an outstanding and innovative contribution to the field of applied physics. It has been awarded annually since 1998 by the editors-in-chief of the Springer journals Applied Physics A – Materials Science & Processing and Applied Physics B – Lasers and Optics.