Thu May 25, 2:09 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Imagine an invisibility cloak that works just like the
one Harry Potter inherited from his father.
Researchers in England and the United States think they know how to
do that. They are laying out the blueprint and calling for help in
developing the exotic materials needed to build a cloak.
The keys are special manmade materials, unlike any in nature or the
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. These materials are
intended to steer light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation
around an object, rendering it as invisible as something tucked into
a hole in space.
"Is it science fiction? Well, it's theory and that already is not
science fiction. It's theoretically possible to do all these Harry
Potter things, but what's standing in the way is our engineering
capabilities," said John Pendry, a physicist at the Imperial College
Details of the study, which Pendry co-wrote, appear in Thursday's
online edition of the journal Science.
Scientists not involved in the work said it presents a solid case
for making invisibility an attainable goal.
"This is very interesting science and a very interesting idea and it
is supported on a great mathematical and physical basis," said Nader
Engheta, a professor of electrical and systems engineering at the
University of Pennsylvania. Engheta has done his own work on
invisibility using novel materials called metamaterials.
Pendry and his co-authors also propose using metamaterials because
they can be tuned to bend electromagnetic radiation radio waves
and visible light, for example in any direction.
A cloak made of those materials, with a structure designed down to
the submicroscopic scale, would neither reflect light nor cast a
Instead, like a river streaming around a smooth boulder, light and
all other forms of electromagnetic radiation would strike the cloak
and simply flow around it, continuing on as if it never bumped up
against an obstacle. That would give an onlooker the apparent
ability to peer right through the cloak, with everything tucked
inside concealed from view.
"Yes, you could actually make someone invisible as long as someone
wears a cloak made of this material," said Patanjali Parimi, a
Northeastern University physicist and design engineer at Chelton
Microwave Corp. in Bolton, Mass. Parimi was not involved in the
Such a cloak does not exist, but early versions that could mask
microwaves and other forms of electromagnetic radiation could be as
close as 18 months away, Pendry said. He said the study was "an
invitation to come and play with these new ideas."
"We will have a cloak after not too long," he said.
The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
supported the research, given the obvious military applications of
such stealthy technology.
While Harry Potter could wear his cloak to skulk around Hogwarts, a
real-world version probably would not be something just to be thrown
on, Pendry said.
"To be realistic, it's going to be fairly thick. Cloak is a
misnomer. 'Shield' might be more appropriate," he said.
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