Unveiling: the invisibility cloak


J
.K. Rowling may have you believe that invisibility cloaks are only for boy wizards and Ford Anglia cars, but how far away is science from granting us mere muggles access to the restricted section of the Robinson Library?

Well, one team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley seem to be well on there way to developing an unseeable fabric.

An ultra-thin material they have developed can not only make a 3D object seem like a flat surface to the human eye, but can also change the appearance of the contours of the object to create a different shape all together. This magic is due to the thousands of nano-dots woven into the material. When optical light falls on the dots, the waves are reflected in specific directions, making the object appear flat.

Of course, this is not true invisibility. While the cloak can make an object appear flat or a different shape, it can’t make the subject seem to fully disappear (it’s also less than a millimetre in length!).

Not to be disheartened, however, one beautifully languid application has already been suggested by its creator, Xiang Zhang. He said: “One application might be in cosmetics. You can imagine if someone has a fat belly, like me, and he wants to look nice, he could put this layer on and it will look like a six pack.”

“This magic is due to the thousands of nano-dots woven into the material. When optical light falls on the dots, the waves are reflected in specific directions, making the object appear flat.”

Zhang and his team aren’t the only scientists trying to sneak down to Hagrid’s hut after hours. Across the other side of the wizarding world, at the Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, a research team recently made another significant step on the path to invisibility.

Using the element Germanium, the scientists created a cloak to shield a toy mouse from infrared radiation.

Although invisible itself to the human eye, all animals emit infrared radiation as heat, which can be detected by thermal imaging cameras and certain animals – such as snakes.

The cloak channelled the radiation waves from the heated toy mouse, around itself, and then bent them back into straight lines for a thermal imaging camera, so the rays appear to travel through the ‘mouse’ – making it invisible.

While this cloak could come in handy when fighting a basilisk, practical applications could include more covert operations, such as hiding soldiers and tanks from infrared detection.

Of course, all these technologies are years away from real world use, never mind supermarket shelves.  So in the meantime, if the need to bypass a three-headed dog arises, a harp may be a more practical option.

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