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Researchers Create Small Scale Invisibility Cloak

March 19, 2010

Researchers have successfully rendered a minute bump on a gold surface invisible, using special masking technology that could someday bring true invisibility cloaks from the realms of science fiction and fantasy into reality.

Scientists from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and Imperial College London “used photonic crystals with a structure that looks like piles of wood to make an invisibility device, or cloak,” Reuters reporter Kate Kelland wrote in a March 18 article.

“The ‘cloak’ was composed of special lenses that work by partially bending light waves to suppress the light scattering from the bump,” she added, comparing the process to “hiding a small object underneath a carpet and then making both the bump and the carpet invisible.”

The small scale test involved a bump that was only 0.00004 inch high and 0.0005 inch across and could only be seen with a microscope. The cloak itself was only 10-times larger. However, the researchers report that they were able to completely make both the object and the cloak vanish, regardless of which angle they viewed it from.

This could well be the first step towards the eventual development of something like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak or the cloaking devices used on Star Trek spaceships.

“This is very exciting, because mankind has always thought about being invisible or having invisibility cloaks,” lead researcher Tolga Ergin told Reuters in a telephone interview. “This is the first proof of principle. It shows that the technique works.”

While Ergin admits that any large scale application of the invisibility device is a long way off, due to time and fiscal constraints, he says “It is really hard to say what the future will bring, but the field is definitely very broad and the possibilities are very large.”

The results of the study were published in Science, the academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Image Caption: This graphic shows a 3-D nanostructure, consisting of a bumpy gold surface layer with the tailored “invisibility cloak” underneath. The cloak, made from laser-sculpted layers of polymer, hides the bump from optical detection. Credit: Science / AAAS

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