Invisibility has long been the preserve of science fiction and fantasy, but researchers have made a significant breakthrough that could bring this super power a step closer to reality, reports Engadget.
A research team based in California has successfully developed a new material that can cloak three-dimensional objects and render them invisible to optical detection.
This “invisibility cloak” is ultra thin and flexible, made of meta-materials, materials that are artificially engineered and possess properties not found in nature.
The microscopic cloak is comprised of a 50-nanometer-thick layer of magnesium fluoride and topped with 30-nanometer-thick gold antennas.
To understand this sense of scale involved, by comparison, the average human hair is 100,000 nanometers wide.
The invisibility cloak is malleable and functions much like skin, able to adapt to the irregular shape of an object, a property central to its effects.
To test its effectiveness, an irregularly shaped microscopic object with bumps and dents was wrapped with the invisibility cloak.
The researchers then concentrated a near-infrared light on the object. The cloak redirected the incoming light waves, scattering them away from the object, creating a mirror effect that even made the object’s edges invisible.
Penn State University electrical engineering professor Xingjie Ni, the study’s lead author said “The fact that we can make a curved surface appear flat also means that we can make it look like anything else. We also can make a flat surface appear curved”, as reported by Tempo.
Xiang Zhang, director of the Materials Sciences Division of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said there were no “fundamental roadblocks” to the invisibility cloak being upscaled, but warned this may take five to 10 years.
But once this has been achieved, there are a number of possible applications. Invisibility is a capability highly coveted by militaries, and millions of dollars are already being spent on the research and development of stealth technologies.
Professor Ni predicted the technology would eventually be used by military forces to give larger objects such as vehicles, aircraft or soldiers the power of invisibility, a capability that would provide critical and decisive advantage in combat operations.
Ni also suggested some other possible real-world applications for an invisibility cloak material, such as cosmetic – it could be combined with a face mask perhaps to conceal physical imperfections like pimples or wrinkles.
The technology could also be used in fashion, blended with clothes that “hide one’s belly”, and create the illusion of a perfect form.
[Image via Pablo Blaquez Dominguezz, Getty Images.]