If mathematics professor Robert Lipton has his way, selfies could be sent to Saturn.
Lipton is a member of a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative grant team composed of professors from the University of New Mexico, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, Irvine and Ohio State University. The team is using the five year, $7.5 million grant to research the amplification of microwaves to improve long range communications.
The team’s goal is to amplify high fidelity waves while maintaining the shape, allowing for sophisticated messages to be clearly communicated over longer distances. Typically, power and wave shape are mutually exclusive characteristics, making this research especially difficult, Lipton said.
He said the team’s basic design concept is similar to the functioning of a reed in a clarinet.
An electron beam will be fired through a tube, where the beam will connect with interaction structures consisting of various geometric shapes. As the desired electromagnetic wave passes through the device, the interaction structures will slow the wave to the speed of the electron beam.
Once the wave is slowed, it will interact with the electrons from the beam and steal some of the electrons’ kinetic energy. The kinetic energy will be converted to electromagnetic energy and amplify the wave to increase the distance over which it can travel, Lipton said.
Another challenge the team faces is the materials available for use. Working under the constraints of high temperatures and high magnetic fields, the team must construct the device and interaction structures entirely of metamaterials — synthetic materials with properties not found in nature — instead of natural materials.
The problem’s difficulty requires the involvement of multiple disciplines, including mathematics, engineering and physics.
“The reason a math department would be called in, like our department, is we have expertise in electromagnetics, but we also practice a scientifically agnostic discipline, which is applied math or mathematics,” Lipton said.
Lipton, with the assistance of graduate student Lokendra Thakur and postdoctoral researcher Anthony Polizzi, is assessing which designs will produce the greatest amplification. They simulate the designs through computational models and assess each design’s viability to help the team decide which designs to execute.
“For example, like how the shape of a drum head influences the tone of the drum, we’re doing the same thing, only with electromagnetic waves,” Lipton said. “We’re assessing how the shape of the interaction structure influences the amplification of the wave form.”
Now entering the grant’s fourth year, the team is preparing to build prototypes of their best designs. The team intends to apply for another grant to continue expanding upon their discoveries, Lipton said.
The research will have numerous uses if successful, mainly in the fields of communications and pulse power applications. It will also be useful to further improve particle accelerator technologies, which are used in radiotherapy for tumors, he said.
Thakur, who studies applied mathematics, said working on this project has let him contribute positively to society while expanding his knowledge of mathematics.
“At the end of the day this is going to be very practical,” Thakur said. “It’s not like something done in a theory and then left and forgotten.”