Metamaterial Enhanced Micromirror Surfaces (MEMMS) for Enhanced Infrared Beam Control

Navy SBIR 23.1 - Topic N231-065
ONR - Office of Naval Research
Pre-release 1/11/23   Opens to accept proposals 2/08/23   Closes 3/08/23 12:00pm ET    [ View Q&A ]

N231-065 TITLE: Metamaterial Enhanced Micromirror Surfaces (MEMMS) for Enhanced Infrared Beam Control

OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Autonomy; Directed Energy (DE); Space

The technology within this topic is restricted under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 CFR Parts 120-130, which controls the export and import of defense-related material and services, including export of sensitive technical data, or the Export Administration Regulation (EAR), 15 CFR Parts 730-774, which controls dual use items. Offerors must disclose any proposed use of foreign nationals (FNs), their country(ies) of origin, the type of visa or work permit possessed, and the statement of work (SOW) tasks intended for accomplishment by the FN(s) in accordance with the Announcement. Offerors are advised foreign nationals proposed to perform on this topic may be restricted due to the technical data under US Export Control Laws.

OBJECTIVE: Develop, optimize, and demonstrate fast, frequency-agile, stimuli-responsive, and tunable micromirror surfaces that autonomously protect sensors from damaging optical beams, while allowing unobstructed transmission of non-damaging wavelengths and intensities in the 3-5 m band.

DESCRIPTION: Digital micromirrors (DMDs, like those from Texas Instruments) are a well-established commercial technology that is routinely used in projection systems and could be incorporated into an adaptive imaging system to detect and steer harmful light or heat sources away from sensitive imaging equipment. While their high switching speeds (up to 12.5 kHz) and wavelength agnostic deflection are advantages, many enhancements could be made. Creating an enhanced surface that outperforms current micromirrors (e.g., faster, more compact, higher reflection, tunable open/close) through new processing techniques, new shape memory alloys [Ref 15] or incorporation of metamaterials. Showing how cooperative approaches can enhance micromirrors is the goal of this SBIR topic.

The ability to control strong light-matter interaction in liquid crystals [Ref 1], metamaterials [Refs 2-5], epsilon-near-zero (ENZ) materials [Refs 6,7], phase change materials (PCMs) [Refs 8,9], micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) [Ref 10], and soft materials [Refs 11-14] suggest that these state-of-the-art materials systems can be leveraged to create smart surfaces that autonomously respond to bright sources in a scene. For example, spatial light modulation (SLM) by metamaterials, holography, and liquid crystals enables selective-area light attenuation [Refs 1,2]. Digital metamaterials offer lenses and phase modulators capable of light redirection and beam steering [Refs 3,4]. Non-linear optical responses in Bragg reflector stacks and ENZ materials provide another potential route to autonomous light attenuation [Refs 5-7]. Integrating these concepts with PCMs, MEMS, and micro-mirrors may reveal new opportunities and platforms for programmable SLM and beam steering [Refs 8-10]. Finally, soft materials like liquid crystal elastomers and photo-responsive hydrogels have recently emerged as new platforms for autonomous manipulation of light [Refs 11-14], offering new abilities to create nano/microstructures that move in response to light and platforms for trapping and guiding laser beams. New capabilities in nano-/microfabrication may enable new, hierarchical approaches that combine multiple stimuli-responsive materials and architectures to further enhance adaptability.

Work produced in Phase II may become classified. Note: The prospective contractor(s) must be U.S. Owned and Operated with no Foreign Influence as defined by DOD 5220.22-M, National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual, unless acceptable mitigating procedures can and have been implemented and approved by the Defense Counterintelligence Security Agency (DCSA), formerly the Defense Security Service (DSS). The selected contractor must be able to acquire and maintain a secret level facility and Personnel Security Clearances, in order to perform on advanced phases of this contract as set forth by DCSA and ONR in order to gain access to classified information pertaining to the national defense of the United States and its allies; this will be an inherent requirement. The selected company will be required to safeguard classified material IAW DoD 5220.22-M during the advance phases of this contract.

PHASE I: Design a surface utilizing a micromirror array capable of autonomously deflecting mid-wave infrared light. Surface can utilize other materials to enhance the micromirror or overall performance. Model performance enhancement over existing mid-wave infrared (MWIR) deflecting surfaces through:

- Novel micromirror designs(e.g., NiTi bimorphs) (Objective/Threshold: include at least 1 cooperative approach)- Faster actuation speeds (Threshold> 1 ms response time; Objective: >1 ns response time)

- Higher transmission across 3-5 m (Threshold

- Higher blocking across 3-5 m waveband (Threshold: > OD 4; Objective: > OD6)


Discuss tradeoffs of design in meeting these requirements and discuss implementation into a MWIR imaging system and any limitations. Demonstrate key component validation of the overall model design.

PHASE II: Based on Phase I modeling and proofs of concept, fabricate, test, and demonstrate at least one operational MEMMS filter prototype that is appropriate for implementation into existing and/or future Navy imaging systems. The prototype should be capable of autonomous optical responses with sub-ns response times. The MEMMS filters should reversibly cycle over 10^5 times without suffering more than 2% degradation in response time, OD change, reflection, transmission, dormant state/position, etc. Using a detailed analysis of system trades and input from appropriate stakeholders, propose a pathway to refine and integrate the MEMMS filter prototype with a candidate imaging system of interest to or used by the Navy or the Army. Depending on the target imaging system, the MEMMS filters should increase the total size, weight, power and cost (SWaP-C) burden by 0.1% or less, should not adversely impact imaging performance, and should allow normal imaging modality over typical ranges of brightness/lighting conditions; more specifically, MEMMS filters under normal imaging conditions should not change the systems modulation transfer function by more than 10%.

It is probable that the work under this effort will be classified under Phase II (see Description section for details).

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Transition the newly developed MEMMS filter technology to commercial availability through the prime contractors that build these imaging systems, the original equipment manufacturers that manufacture sensing components, other relevant optical and photonic suppliers, and/or other partnering agreement(s), as appropriate. Commercialization of this technology may occur via the incorporation of one or more MEMMS filters anywhere in an imaging system (e.g., windows, lenses, shutters, FPA pixels, etc.).

Ideally, deliver a capability upgrade for a relevant Navy Program of Record at the end of Phase III in the form of an imaging system that autonomously responds with no added cognitive burden to the user, and a minimum added SWaP-C burden.

Expected dual-use applications include autonomous vehicles, LiDAR, border security, astronomy telescopes (protecting radiation damage during imaging) and protecting civilian optical imaging systems (e.g., thermal imaging of the sun).


1.       Forbes, A., Dudley, A., & McLaren, M. (2016). Creation and detection of optical modes with spatial light modulators. Advances in Optics and Photonics, 8(2), 200-227.

2.       Fan, K., Suen, J. Y., & Padilla, W. J. (2017). Graphene metamaterial spatial light modulator for infrared single pixel imaging. Optics Express, 25(21), 25318-25325.

3.       Della Giovampaola, C., Engheta, N. Digital metamaterials. Nature Mater 13, 11151121 (2014).

4.       Cui, T. J., Qi, M. Q., Wan, X., Zhao, J., & Cheng, Q. (2014). Coding metamaterials, digital metamaterials and programmable metamaterials. Light: Science & Applications, 3(10), e218-e218.

5.       Vella, J. H., Goldsmith, J. H., Browning, A. T., Limberopoulos, N. I., Vitebskiy, I., Makri, E., & Kottos, T. (2016). Experimental realization of a reflective optical limiter. Physical Review Applied, 5(6), 064010.

6.       Nahvi, E., Liberal, I., & Engheta, N. (2020). Nonlinear metamaterial absorbers enabled by photonic doping of epsilon-near-zero metastructures. Physical Review B, 102(3), 035404.

7.       Alam, M. Z., Schulz, S. A., Upham, J., De Leon, I., & Boyd, R. W. (2018). Large optical nonlinearity of nanoantennas coupled to an epsilon-near-zero material. Nature Photonics, 12(2), 79-83.

8.       Bhupathi, S., Wang, S., Abutoama, M., Balin, I., Wang, L., Kazansky, P. G., Long, Y., & Abdulhalim, I. (2020). Femtosecond Laser-Induced Vanadium Oxide Metamaterial Nanostructures and the Study of Optical Response by Experiments and Numerical Simulations. ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

9.       Jafari, M., Guo, L. J., & Rais-Zadeh, M. (2019). A reconfigurable color reflector by selective phase change of GeTe in a multilayer structure. Advanced Optical Materials, 7(5), 1801214.

10.   Hong, J., Chan, E., Chang, T., Fung, T. C., Hong, B., Kim, C., Ma, J., Pan, Y., Van Lier, R., Wang, S.G., & Wen, B. (2015). Continuous color reflective displays using interferometric absorption. Optica, 2(7), 589-597.

11.   Yao, Y., Waters, J. T., Shneidman, A. V., Cui, J., Wang, X., Mandsberg, N. K., Li, S., Balazs, A. C., & Aizenberg, J. (2018). Multiresponsive polymeric microstructures with encoded predetermined and self-regulated deformability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(51), 12950-12955.

12.   Davidson, E. C., Kotikian, A., Li, S., Aizenberg, J., & Lewis, J. A. (2020). 3D Printable and Reconfigurable Liquid Crystal Elastomers with Light-Induced Shape Memory via Dynamic Bond Exchange. Advanced Materials, 32(1), 1905682.

13.   Morim, D. R., Meeks, A., Shastri, A., Tran, A., Shneidman, A. V., Yashin, V. V., Mahmood, F., Balazs, A. C., Aizenberg, J., & Saravanamuttu, K. (2020). Opto-chemo-mechanical transduction in photoresponsive gels elicits switchable self-trapped beams with remote interactions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(8), 3953-3959.

14.   Waters, J. T., Li, S., Yao, Y., Lerch, M. M., Aizenberg, M., Aizenberg, J., & Balazs, A. C. (2020). Twist again: Dynamically and reversibly controllable chirality in liquid crystalline elastomer microposts. Science Advances, 6(13), eaay5349.

15.   Knick, C. R., Smith, G. L., Morris, C. J., & Bruck, H. A. (2019). Rapid and low power laser actuation of sputter-deposited NiTi shape memory alloy (SMA) MEMS thermal bimorph actuators. Sensors and Actuators A: Physical, 291, 48-57.


KEYWORDS: Micromirror; micro-electromechanical systems; MEMS; Metamaterials; phase-change materials; dynamic filters; mid-wave infrared; MWIR; spatial light modulation; focal plane array; FPA

TPOC-1: Benjamin Conley

Email: [email protected]


TPOC-2: Kevin Leonard 

Email: [email protected]


TPOC-3: Timothy Morgan

Email: [email protected]


The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the Navy Topics in the DoD 23.1 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at for any updates.

The DoD issued its Navy 23.1 SBIR Topics pre-release on January 11, 2023 which opens to receive proposals on February 8, 2023, and closes March 8, 2023 (12:00pm ET).

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Topic Q & A

2/3/23  Q. Can further details on design requirements for Phase I be provided?
   A. Model performance enhancement over existing mid-wave infrared (MWIR) deflecting surfaces through:
- Novel micromirror designs(e.g., NiTi bimorphs) (Objective/Threshold: include at least 1 cooperative approach)- Faster actuation speeds (Threshold <1 ms response time; Objective: <1 ns response time)
- Higher transmission across 3-5 m (Threshold across 3-5 m (Threshold<10% reduction in MTF of system; Objective: <5% reduction in MTF of system)
- Higher blocking across 3-5 m waveband (Threshold: > OD 4; Objective: > OD6)
- Continual imaging through harmful radiation (Threshold <1 s full imaging restored after harmful radiation removed; Objective <1 ms)
- Endurance (Threshold/Objective > 105 uses)
- Low SWAP (Threshold/Objective <0.1% SWAP increase to imaging system)

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