Bi-isotropic material

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In physics, engineering and materials science, bi-isotropic materials have the special optical property that they can rotate the polarization of light in either refraction or transmission. This does not mean all materials with twist effect fall in the bi-isotropic class. The twist effect of the class of bi-isotropic materials is caused by the chirality and non-reciprocity of the structure of the media, in which the electric and magnetic field of an electromagnetic wave (or simply, light) interact in an unusual way.


For most materials, the electric field E and electric displacement field D (as well as the magnetic field B and inductive magnetic field H) are parallel to one another. These simple mediums are called isotropic, and the relationships between the fields can be expressed using constants. For more complex materials, such as crystals and many metamaterials, these fields are not necessarily parallel. When one set of the fields are parallel, and one set are not, the material is called anisotropic. Crystals typically have D fields which are not aligned with the E fields, while the B and H fields remain related by a constant. Materials where either pair of fields is not parallel are called anisotropic.

In bi-isotropic media, the electric and magnetic fields are coupled. The constitutive relations are

D, E, B, H, ε and μ are corresponding to usual electromagnetic qualities. ξ and ζ are the coupling constants, which is the intrinsic constant of each media.

This can be generalized to the case where ε, μ, ξ and ζ are tensors (i.e. they depend on the direction within the material), in which case the media is referred to as bi-anisotropic.[1]

Coupling constant[edit]

ξ and ζ can be further related to the Tellegen (referred to as reciprocity) χ and chirality κ parameter

after substitute the above equations into the constitutive relations, gives


non-chiral chiral
reciprocal simple isotropic medium Pasteur Medium
non-reciprocal Tellegen Medium General bi-isotropic medium


Pasteur media can be made by mixing metal helices of one handedness into a resin. Care has been exercised to secure isotropy: the helices must be randomly oriented so that there is no special direction.[2] [3]

The magnetoelectric effect can be understood from the helix as it is exposed to the electromagnetic field. the helix geometry is a sort of inductor. The magnetic component of an EM wave induces a current on the wire and further influence the electric component of the same EM wave.

From the constitutive relations, for Pasteur media, χ = 0,

the D field was delayed the respond from the H-field by a phase i.

Tellegen media is an opposite of Pasteur media, which is electromagnetic: the electric component will cause the magnetic component to change. such a medium is not as straightforward as the concept of handedness. Electric dipoles bonded with magnets belong to this kind of media. when the dipoles are turned by the electric part of an EM wave, the magnets will also be changed, due to the fact that they are bounded together. The change of magnets direction will change the magnetic component of the same EM wave.

from the constitutive relations, for Tellegen media, κ = 0,

The D field was responded immediately from the H-field.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mackay, Tom G.; Lakhtakia, Akhlesh (2010). Electromagnetic Anisotropy and Bianisotropy: A Field Guide. Singapore: World Scientific. 
  2. ^ Lakhtakia, Akhlesh (1994). Beltrami Fields in Chiral Media. Nobel Lecture. Singapore: World Scientific. 
  3. ^ Lindell, I.V.; Shivola, A.H.; Tretyakov, S.A.; Viitanen, A.J. Electromagnetic Waves in Chiral and Bi-isotropic Media.