We investigate the dynamics of light rays in two classes of optical metamaterial systems: (1) time-dependent system with a volcano-shaped, inhomogeneous and isotropic refractive-index distribution, subject to external electromagnetic perturbations and (2) time-independent system consisting of three overlapping or non-overlapping refractive-index distributions. Utilizing a mechanical-optical analogy and coordinate transformation, the wave-propagation problem governed by the Maxwell's equations can be modeled by a set of ordinary differential equations for light rays. We find that transient chaotic dynamics, hyperbolic or nonhyperbolic, are common in optical metamaterial systems. Due to the analogy between light-ray dynamics in metamaterials and the motion of light in matter as described by general relativity, our results reinforce the recent idea that chaos in gravitational systems can be observed and studied in laboratory experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number033116
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 19 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Applied Mathematics


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