Scientific Background, Motivation and Aims

During much of the 19th century and until quite recently in this century, electromagnetics researchers focussed on either vacuum or metals or dielectric media such as crystals, powders, epoxies and plasmas. Some attention was paid to magnetic materials as well, chiefly at low frequencies. During the 1960s, however, attention began to be sporadically focussed on general electromagnetic media. Although nonlinear dielectric media quickly became very important in optics owing to their technological significance, advances in materials sciences were very slow so that general (i.e., bianisotropic) media were considered important only by a few theorists.

This picture began to dramatically alter during the mid-1980s. Chiral media arrived on the scene, with the possibility of being technologically significant at microwave frequencies. This became possible owing to huge advances in polymer sciences: biomimetic materials as well as extremely long-chain polymers with chiral conformations make chiral media attractive for electromagneticists. The study of the optical properties of enantiomers has been boosted by the recognition of enantioselectivity by the pharmaceutical industry. The chirality of ocular media has been targeted for noninvasive monitoring of blood glucose in diabetics. More recent advances in thin film technology are yielding new forms of smart composites and functional gradient materials. Helicoidal bianisotropic mediums have been proposed and fabricated, and have given rise to the sculptured thin film concept for use in solid optics, bio-ultrasonics, transduction, microcatalysis, and many other areas.

A major new thrust area is in combining the fast electromagnetic responses of most materials with their relatively slower mechanical responses, giving rise to electromagnetically controllable smart materials for transduction and actuation. Typically, these are composites so that their electromagnetic as well as mechanical responses have desirable attributes. Moreover, they may be inhomogeneous in order to possess functional gradients.

Complex media require the attentions of scientists from a wide spectrum of disciplines: from Applied Mathematics and Physics to Electrical and Electronic Engineering, from Chemistry to Materials Science, and even Biophysics. Thus, the electromagnetics of complex media is indeed a truly multidisciplinary research area spanning the bridge from basic theoretical and experimental research at universities to industrial production of a diverse array of electrical, microwave, infrared and optical materials and devices.

All of this means that the study of electromagnetic fields in bianisotropic media is no longer merely the province of ivory-tower theorists, but a vibrant area of technological research as well with great promise for societal benefits.

(last updated 16-11-96)