In school, you probably learned that materials like wood, glass, and water are made of atoms that stick together to make molecules. And that way those atoms stick together determines what the material can do. For example, super strong atomic bonds usually make a material solid.
But new manmade materials, called "metamaterials," are tossing the laws of physics out the window. These materials have far-out capabilities, like bending sound and light around solid objects, and in some cases, making them invisible. Their behavior is not determined by individual atoms, but by larger artificial structures called meta-atoms.
Essentially, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
"These metamaterials are revolutionary in concept," said John Pendry, professor of theoretical solid state physics at Imperial College London.
He notes that some applications are closer to reality than others. "If you're a theorist like me you can have wild dreams," he said. "If you're an engineer, engineers tend to be quite rightly very cautious."
Invisibility cloaks are one dreamy application. "Ten years ago we wouldn't know how to make one," said Steve Cummer, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke University. "Now we know what we have to do to make one." Nanotechnology still has to advance significantly before that can happen, though. In the meantime, scientists like Cummer and Pendry are pondering these 10 future uses for metamaterials.