We have incorporated arrays of conductive electromagnetic scattering elements such as straight copper wires and copper coils into fiber-reinforced polymer composites, resulting in materials with required structural and further electromagnetic functionality. The scattering elements provide controlled electromagnetic response for tasks such as filtering and may be used to tune the overall index of refraction of the composite. Integration of these metallic elements into traditional fiber-reinforced polymer composites has introduced other opportunities for multifunctionality in terms of self-healing, thermal transport and perhaps sensing applications. Such functionalities are the result of fiber/wire integration through textile braiding and weaving, combined with a new polymer matrix that has the ability to heal internal cracking through thermo-reversible covalent bonds. Multifunctional composites of this kind enhance the role of structural materials from mere load-bearing systems to lightweight structures of good thermo-mechanical attributes that also have electromagnetic and other functionalities.
We are studying the incorporation of electromagnetic effective media in the form of arrays of metal scattering elements, such as wires, into polymer-based or ceramic-based composites. In addition to desired structural properties, these electromagnetic effective media can provide controlled response to electromagnetic radiation such as RF communication signals, radar, and/or infrared radiation. With the addition of dynamic components, these materials may be leveraged for active tasks such as filtering. The advantages of such hybrid composites include simplicity and weight savings by the combination of electromagnetic functionality with necessary structural functionality. This integration of both electromagnetic and structural functionality throughout the volume of the composite is the distinguishing feature of our approach. As an example, we present a class of composites based on the integration of artificial plasmon media into polymer matrixes. Such composites can exhibit a broadband index of refraction substantially equal to unity at microwave frequencies and below.