Electromagnetic metamaterials (MMs) and metasurfaces (MSs) are artificial media and surfaces with subwavelength separations of meta-atoms designed for anomalous manipulations of light properties. Owing to large scattering cross-sections of metallic/dielectric meta-atoms, it is possible to not only localize strong electromagnetic fields in deep subwavelength volume but also decompose and analyze incident light signal with ultracompact setup using MMs and MSs. Hence, by probing resonant spectral responses from extremely boosted interactions between analyte layer and optical MMs or MSs, sensing the variation of refractive index has been a popular and practical application in the field of photonics. Moreover, decomposing and analyzing incident light signal can be easily achieved with anisotropic MSs, which can scatter light to different directions according to its polarization or wavelength. In this paper, we present recent advances and potential applications of optical MMs and MSs for refractive index sensing and sensing light properties, which can be easily integrated with various electronic devices. The characteristics and performances of devices are summarized and compared qualitatively with suggestions of design guidelines.
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