Profile: Building a Metamaterials Hub
Now that Dartmouth-based Metamaterials Technology has signed a partnership agreement with Airbus, founder and CEO George Palikaras aims to turn Atlantic Canada into a centre for producing optical metamaterials.
Palikaras has developed metamaterials — synthetic substances with properties not found in nature — that use nanotechnology to filter, absorb or enhance light. Now he’s looking at partners to create a manufacturing facility in this region.
“We’re the first company in the world to commercialize optical metamaterial thin-film technology on a large scale and Atlantic Canada is the ideal location,” he said. “Atlantic Canada offers quick access to key markets, and the aerospace and defence ecosystem is strong. We are here because we believe this is the right location to grow our business.”
The first application Palikaras and his team have focused on is a transparent nano-composite thin-film that offers a solution to the problem of laser interference — there are now 4,000 laser attacks on airplanes annually in the U.S. alone.
The company’s Lamda Guard division recently partnered with Airbus, the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer, to develop the thin-film which can be applied to an aircraft’s cockpit windshields to block laser beams.
Since the Airbus announcement in June, Palikaras has begun to increase his Atlantic Canadian staff. Two new local jobs — a thin-film designer and a metamaterials scientist — have already been posted. Palikaras has received applications from around the world but says he is talking to regional universities about setting up training programs to educate workers.
“We want to attract new talent, especially local talent,” he said. “And we believe the Maritimes has a highly qualified workforce.”
Palikaras now has enough money to go forward with Lamda Guard and its sales growth will help finance the other two divisions: Lamda Solar, which focuses on increasing solar energy output by up to 100 per cent, and Lamda Lux, which can increase the efficiency of LED lighting by 10 times.
“We have four patent families, two of which are dedicated to solar technology that can improve solar panels enough to save costs, increase output, and reduce carbon emissions,” he said.
It is 15 years since metamaterials first emerged as a scientific field with great promise, and Palikaras believes market analysts will soon see growth in the sector which will surpass their predications.
“Analysts predict that the market for metamaterials will be worth more than $800 million in less than 10 years,” he said. “But I’m on the inside and I say our industry will be a multibillion-dollar industry. Nanofabrication costs are coming down, so the technology can be applied to making consumer products less expensive in larger quantities and easily attainable.”
Palikaras’s interest in metamaterials was sparked by Alex Feresidis and Prof. Clive Parini, whom he studied under in England between 2002 and 2010.
A born problem solver, Palikaras was shocked to learn of the emerging problem of laser attacks during a visit to his native Greece at that time.
“Watching TV, I saw fans committing laser attacks on basketball and soccer players,” he said. “Research told me that laser attacks were also affecting pilots. In the U.K., I found that laser attacks on pilots there were more than doubling every year. I knew metamaterials could be a potential solution.”
He got to work, establishing his company in 2010 with co-founder Themos Kallos. His search for a manufacturing partner revealed that the University of New Brunswick and Universite de Moncton both had facilities that could help to produce his first prototypes. With the support of several groups, including the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, he contracted the New Brunswick universities and other Canadian researchers to start work on his designs in 2012.
He said he and his wife, life scientist Nadine Geddes, intend to stay here. “We’re passionate about using this new science to make the world a little better and to assist the economic development of this region,” he said.