The 3D Invisibility Cloak: It's Real, But It's Really Tiny

By Andrew Moseman | March 19, 2010 1:21 pm

3dCloakIt’s become one of our favorite rituals: Researchers come out with a paper pushing the science of invisibility cloaks a little further, inspiring everyone to go giddy with visions of Harry Potter and Romulan Warbirds. This week’s study in Science is another small step, but it’s a crucial one. Scientists in Germany have created the first rudimentary “invisibility cloak” in 3D.

Invisibility cloak mania started in 2006, when a Duke University team created the technology to bend light waves around an object; since the tiny object neither absorbed nor reflected the experiment’s microwaves, it was essentially “cloaked.” (The researchers used microwaves instead of visible light because microwaves have longer wavelengths, and are therefore easier to control.) The invisibility excitement struck again two years later when researchers refined their technique to hide a nanoscale object from visible light waves.

Now, researchers have created a cloak that not only works in infrared light wavelengths that are close to humans’ visual range, but also in 3D, too. Previous devices have been able to hide objects from light travelling in only one direction; viewed from any other angle, the object would remain visible [BBC News].

The team from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology didn’t exactly make the Statue of Liberty disappear. The “bump” made invisible is a spot in a layer of gold that’s 0.00004 inches high by 0.00005 inches wide. That hasn’t dampened lead researcher Tolga Ergin’s excitement, though. “In principle, the cloak design is completely scalable; there is no limit to it,” Ergin said. Developing the fabrication technology so that the crystals were smaller could “lead to much larger cloaks” [The Independent].

The sci-fi kind of cloaking will be harder to achieve, since visible wavelengths of light are shorter than infrared and thus harder to control. But Ergin’s 3D cloak is another step toward humanity’s ultimate dream: not being bothered by other humans.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: How to Build an Invisibility Cloak
DISCOVER: Invisibility Becomes More Than Just a Fantasy
80beats: New Version of Invisibility Moves Closer to Visual Cloaking
80beats: Light-Bending Scientists Take a Step Closer to Invisibility

Image: Science/AAAS

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math
  • Elissa

    Well, hell is other people after all.

  • Neo

    This cloak is amazing. Can’t wait to see a man disappear using this.

  • Nickey

    There is a long way to go.

  • http://www.twitter.com/karlboll Karl Rosenqvist

    I just love mad scientists. To bad someone is bound to find a practical, nonsinister use for this.
    They said I was mad but now who’s laughing?! Ha HA!! Who’s Laughing?! Oh, it’s me again.

  • dubious

    “not being bothered by other human beings”? That’s something of a misanthropic reason for wanting to develop cloaking technology. I would be wary of the ethical ramifications of developing this technology – especially with regard to privacy issues.

    On a separate, logical note, to create an invisibility cloak that covers the entire person would be strictly impossible, since the person beneath the cloak would still need external light coming into their eyes so they could see beyond/outside of the cloak. If the person were completely invisible, all light from the outside would be redirected and the person inside would basically be blind. 100% invisibility is practically impossible.

  • Matt Tarditti

    @dubious. The ability of the invisibility cloak operator to see does not impact the impossibilityness of an invisibility cloak. In your post, replace “cloak” with “cardboard box”…

    “On a separate, logical note, to create a [cardboard box] that covers the entire person would be strictly impossible, since the person beneath the [cardboard box] would still need external light coming into their eyes so they could see beyond/outside of the [cardboard box]…”

    Now, to allow the operator to see outside the box, one could use a camera and video display, similar to what tank operators normally use. I suspect that an invisibility cloak operator would be allowed the same basic sensing technologies. Yes, I realize that a camera would have to absorb light instead of re-directing it, but I’m sure that the mad scientists can figure out a way to minimize the photon-footprint of said cameras.

    Impractical, yes. Impossible…that’s a four letter word.

  • LL

    @Matt: I like your thinking. A nice pinhole camera may work. The camera could be internal with say only a small fibre optic cable poking out to gather light. A dark speck where the light disappears into the fiber would not be very visible unless one were close enough.

  • billy

    no one cares

  • Timmy

    @Matt @LL, I think you can do full invisibility. If the cloak can be made to hide only certain wavelengths… why not do the normal human visibility spectrum and give the hidden person an ultraviolet or infared optical goggle set? Imagine people’s reactions when they see butterflies landing on thin air!

  • JadedHank

    what Jack-the-Ripper wouldn’t have given for one of these, eh? i have little faith in us humans and this thing would be a criminal’s wet dream

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