How to Create a Black Hole on a Lab Bench

By Eliza Strickland | October 14, 2009 6:58 pm

metamaterial-black-hole-2In a lab in Nanjing, China, two researchers are mucking about with what could be called the world’s first artificial black hole–but there’s no reason for alarm. The researchers, Qiang Cheng and Tie Jun Cui, haven’t created a doomsday device, but rather a nifty experiment that harnesses the strange properties of metamaterials. Physicists have already learned how to steer light around an object within a metamaterial to create an invisibility cloak…. Now Qiang and Tie have created a metamaterial that distorts space so severely that light entering it (in this case microwaves) cannot escape [Technology Review].

The lab experiment simulates a cosmological black hole, where the intense gravity curves space-time, sucking in any matter or radiation that gets too close. Not even light can escape a black hole (hence the name). The researchers couldn’t duplicate the intense gravity, but they could build a metamaterial with a physical structure that would make light curve into its central core, never to return. The device they built works only with microwaves so far, but the researchers say a visible light black hole is the next step.

metamaterial-black-holeThe device consists of 60 layers of circuit board arranged in concentric rings. The layers are coated in copper and etched with intricate patterns that interact with light waves at microwave frequency. “When the incident electromagnetic wave hits the device, the wave will be trapped and guided in the shell region towards the core of the black hole, and will then be absorbed by the core,” says Cui. “The wave will not come out from the black hole.” In their device, the core converts the absorbed light into heat [New Scientist]. The research paper, which has been posted on the preprint server arXiv but hasn’t yet been published, notes that the scientists measured microwaves going in, and found none coming out.

Making a similar device that captures visible light will be quite a challenge, as visible light has a wavelength orders of magnitude smaller than that of microwave radiation. This will require the etched structures to be correspondingly smaller. Cui is confident that they can do it. “I expect that our demonstration of the optical black hole will be available by the end of 2009,” he says [New Scientist].

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DISCOVER: How to Build an Invisibility Cloak

Images: Qiang Cheng and Tie Jun Cui

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Technology
  • dr soda pop

    To be clear, at best call this a mock black hole with some mathematical analogy to the real thing, at worst a gimmick. The bench this sits on will induce more space-time warpage than the device itself.

  • NewEnglandBob

    I already have a device that converts light into heat. Its called a beach.

  • Calv

    Seriously, it’s a nice trick but comparing it a black hole is a stretch. I mean it seems to be more of a… microwave funnel.

  • Tom

    so this is just a fancy way to keep refracting the incoming waves until all the energy is either absorbed? Hope they don’t waste too many time writing a paper on this until they come up with a good excuse to be working on this, cos so far a sheet of lead seems to be just as effective in translating microwaves into heat…

  • torres

    It seems that this will have some real practical usage in the future, they just need to find an application for it. Apparently the other commentors either lack imagination or don’t know about the implications meta-material could have for us, they should look into it’s promise. By the way, is any experimentaion that yields some result truly a waste of time?

  • addicted to bad


  • Sean Quigley

    This may impact how we collect solar energy, perhaps converting more light to heat in to power steam turbines.

  • http://ItalianAerospaceResearchCenter Ruggero Volponi

    Wich is the difference respect a convergent lens for microwaves?

  • Chester

    This ‘hole’ was already devised in the 1800s, called the light-energy converter. Just because people don’t know of an experiment or device, doesn’t mean they created it.

  • http://n/a william eigen

    Bob, where is this beach? If we all go with you, will we all be able to get back home. I’m in the dark about this—you?

  • Sir Wilhelm

    They created the “effect” of a black hole with “meta-material” that affects electromagnetic waves, without the extreme gravity the “black hole” theory originally called for. Could it be the light bending and other light effects supposedly explained by “event horizons” added on to the original theory, are the visisble effects of natural electromagnetic phenomenon and not “black holes”? LIGO has failed to find gravity waves, after 5 years of operation, and gravitons have yet to be shown to exist, without them, there are no black holes, and no Big Bang, either.

  • Beleth

    you cant realize the extent of the research at hand ………..this has enormous consequences for humanity. First it proves that logic and reason are the faculties of the divine. Second it will prove to be usefull in fulfilling human destiny. Most importantly a device which is capable of capturing electromagnetic waves/forces in an infite loop means as the researcher indicated a matter of short time before they bend our visible specter of the light. Hahahahahah that has huge implication dont you realize ?????????????? if not read some meta-physics……..

  • A virbrant hue of Red

    In regards to meta-physics, a device that is capable of bending the visible spectrum would begin to distort our understanding of reality as a matter-perception concept. Reality would begin to fall away from the senses that humans naturally have and start coalescing into intangible forms… Thus Plato strikes again…

    *sigh*… Aristotle (R.I.P.)

  • boomboko

    I just really want to put my finger right in the middle

  • Etherian

    “What happened to you?”
    “I stuck my finger in the middle of a black hole.”

  • chandra prakash singh

    on the basis of “black hole” concept i observe that the gravitational force increses in the depth of black hole.

  • bob

    dude it could suck your nuts off

  • ScannerJOE

    This seems more like a microwave’s muffle, sure it has applications but it doesn’t suck light it will only annihilate it.


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