Scientists closer to invisibility

August 11, 2008 7:28:22 PM PDT
Scientists have been working on the concept of making things invisible since the 1950s, but Monday, University of California, Berkeley researchers announced they are one step closer.

It was the Romulans, in Star Trek, who had the advantage of cloaking, or making their space ship invisible. But today, earthlings announced the development of nano-scale material that can lead to invisibility. They used the concept of negative refraction.

"The negative refraction makes the light bend backwards, so this cannot be done in any natural material," Jie Yao, one of the researchers said.

The colors and shapes you see are created by light bouncing objects. The new metamaterials can reverse that natural direction of light and are the building blocks needed to achieve invisibility.

"It's a really new class of material," researcher Jason Valentine said. "Meta means beyond, so it's beyond normal materials."

Bending light backwards, however, has only been done under a scanning electron microscope. The nano-sized piece of metamaterial is 100 times smaller than the width of a hair, and researchers are still decades away from making a pliable invisible shield.

The metamaterial can absorb radar, which could have huge military implications, not to mention the social ones that invisibility offers. The research is partially funded by the U.S. military.

"We've thought about that," Valentine said. "I think cloaking is so far into the future and this is such a fundamental step, we don't really have to worry about that."

The research will appear in the latest issues of Science and Nature magazines.


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