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Metamaterial Technologies finds sweet spot for science in Nova Scotia

Metamaterial Technologies finds sweet spot for science in Nova Scotia

MetaAir eyewear

Metamaterial Technologies Inc. (MTI) is a rare beast in the high‑tech world. It has offices in Silicon Valley, California, and London, England, yet it has chosen to locate its head office and more than two thirds of its 49 employees in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

"Atlantic Canada is the best location for our headquarters because it is halfway between the west coast and the British coast," says George Palikaras, MTI's founder and CEO, who moved to Nova Scotia from London with one of the firm's other founders, a Canadian.

Thanks to the former NAFTA, MTI's Canadian base also gave it a beachhead for expansion into the United States, which it had long identified as a key market. MTI cemented that link in 2016 by acquiring a Silicon Valley company that had an established laboratory, research and development skills, and a U.S. sales office.

The eyewear blocking and deflecting a green laser beam.

MTI is a pioneer in adapting the science behind some of the most intricate structures found in nature to create complex materials that can absorb, block or enhance light waves. When imprinted on sheets of plastic, metal or glass, these so-called metamaterials can deflect lasers directed at aircraft and enhance the power of solar panels.

The company is launching new eyewear for pilots that block hazardous laser lights, developed in partnership with Europe's Airbus Industrie and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Separately, MTI has partnered with Lockheed Martin, the U.S. aerospace giant and Sustainable Technology Development Canada to produce the world's thinnest silicon-based solar cell technology suitable for flight.

Citing the example of a butterfly's wings that can trap and absorb light at certain wavelengths, Palikaras says, "We have the science and the capability to manufacture on demand what has evolved over billions of years in nature."

Until a few years ago, the cost of replicating these tiny, complex structures was prohibitive and running into hundreds of thousands of dollars per square metre. Today, Palikaras observes, "it is coming down to a few hundred dollars per square metre and, with the work that we're doing, we're pushing that down by a few orders of magnitude."

MTI has benefited greatly from financial support provided by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, as well as with the cooperation of local universities. It is one of Dalhousie University's top co-op program partners.

Palikaras says that the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement has not only cut import tariffs on items imported from Canada, but generally made it easier for MTI to sell its goods and services in Europe.

While the company has yet to reap tangible benefits from the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Palikaras says: "We are very excited about Japan, which is part of the CPTPP. Japan is a key market for us because we have products that are related to the auto industry and we believe that will become a very important part of our export strategy in the next year or so."

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