December 10, 2013
Chinese Researchers Hot On The Trail Of Elusive Invisibility Cloak
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The Chinese government is funding research projects in an attempt to create the world’s first invisibility cloak. The government has funded at least 40 research teams over the past three years to develop something that has only been seen in movies like Harry Potter.
According to a report by the South China Morning Post, scientists working on the project said Beijing believes the technology could lead to wider technological breakthroughs with broader uses.
A video published last month demonstrates how a device created by a team from Zhejiang University in China can make a goldfish “disappear” in its tank. The gadget is a hexagonal cylinder with a transparent passage on the inside, making anything that passes through it seem to disappear.
"When we see an object, what we receive actually is the natural light scattered from the object. We can see the object only after capturing the light," Zheng Bin, one of the researchers responsible for the device, said in a video describing it.
The device utilizes glass with a high refractive index and special positioning, allowing the team to direct light around the object in the tub to give the impression it is not there at all. At the time the video came out, the device was only capable of making small living creatures like goldfish disappear, but since then the team says that it has made a cat disappear.
The team also revealed plans for another device that uses heat sensors and metal detectors to prevent objects from detection. This device is currently about the size of a matchbox, but eventually it could be enlarged to allow weapons to pass through security checkpoints.
"Many people have asked me if the technology can be applied on fighter jets so they can get heat-seeking missiles off their tail. Well, we may work on that,” Professor Ma Yungui, an optical engineering specialist at Zhejiang University, told the South China Morning Post.
Another team at the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics is being funded to develop “full invisibility” technology and material for hypersonic jets. This vehicle could be used to deliver nuclear warheads around the world at speeds five times faster than sound.
Ma says a useable and practical invisibility cloak is still decades away, but the central government is still pouring funds into research because the theoretical knowledge gained could produce potential spin-offs.
"I went to an international forum on invisibility studies in Paris last year and found that at least a third of the researchers came from mainland China,” Ma told the Chinese news agency. “It is challenging to get a research grant no matter what the subject is, but the government’s support on fundamental frontier research such as invisibility study is strong and increasing."
Professor Wang Guoping of the physics department at Wuhan University in Hubei province said the competition to develop the world’s first invisibility cloak is no longer about theory, but is instead about materials.
“Chinese scientists are gaining the lead not only on the invisibility cloak, but in many fields of advanced research,” Guoping said.