Coats That Create Invisibility

Fiction writers have long played around with the myth of the 'invisible cloak'. However, science has finally taken a step forward in making the impossible, possible.

Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology researchers report they were able to hide a small bump in a layer of gold, preventing its detection at nearly visible infrared frequencies. The metamaterial cloak is created to alter the way light bounces off something, making light invisible by bending it around an object.

"Previously developed invisible cloaks worked in two dimensions. The current cloaking device works in three dimensions," said Tolga Ergin, head researcher.
"It’s kind of like a woodpile, that bends light and thus able to hide the bump in the gold layer beneath,"said Ergin. The cloak is an organization of crystals with air spaces in between.

A magnifying lens was needed to see the bump which was a mere 0.00004 inch high and 0.0005 inch across.

"In principle, the cloak design is completely scalable; there is no limit to it," Ergin said. But, he added, "Developing a cloak to hide something takes a long time, so cloaking larger items with that technology is not really feasible." He agreed however, that other techniques could lead to larger cloaks.

Ergin explained "Invisibility cloaks are a beautiful and fascinating benchmark for the field of transformation optics and it is very seldom that one can foretell what practical applications might arise out of a field of fundamental research." He believes the technology may have many more applications than simply hiding things. The advances in optics could one day be used in telecommunications, or computer technology, or simply to further scientific knowledge.

A team led by David Schurig at Duke University developed a way in earlier research, to cloak objects in two dimensions from microwaves. Like light and radar waves, microwaves usually bounce off objects, making them visible to instruments and creating a shadow that can be detected.

The new research makes use of infrared waves, which are close to the spectrum of visible light.

Stealth technology, which does not make an aircraft invisible, but reduces the cross-section available to radar, making it harder to track, is quite different to the metamaterial cloaking.

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