Order from chaos: The Art of Science exhibit at Princeton University recently displayed a new design for a material that will help researchers develop smaller circuits for compact photonic devices, which use light instead of electrons to transmit information. To bend and guide light in photonic devices, engineers often create regular nanometer-scale patterns of holes called photonic crystals. But photonic crystals' regular patterns bend light differently depending on the angle, whereas the new materials, thanks to their random structure, would allow engineers to bend it at any angle without losing information. This computer-generated image, created by Paul J. Steinhardt and his colleagues at Princeton, shows networks of cylinders and walls (orange), which would be carved out of a layer of silicon.
This article was originally published with the title "What is it?" in Scientific American 304, 1, 20 (January 2011)