31 May 2006

Invisibility Cloaks in Real Life?

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Invisibility cloaks are leaving the Harry Potter world and coming to a place we call reality. Theoretical physicists have calculated a structure of material which allows invisibility by the bending of electromagnetic waves. The structure uses metamaterials, which are materials with a negative refractive index (see figure on the right).

While it seems that optical invisibility is not yet achievable, at least radio invisibility is more promising. In any case, optical or radio or other invisibility, defence organisations around the world will be more than happy to fund the research on this project. This is a very good example of good science, excellent marketing.

The researchers hope to produce such materials within five years. Call me pessimistic, but I don't think they can do it. Perhaps they can achieve some sort of radio wave bending, but firstly, it won't be perfect (i.e. there will still be some distortions), and secondly, it won't come in a "cloak form" (i.e. as a fabric) - I think it'll look more like a barrel. Certainly, more time is needed, and I'd wager that optical invisibility is even further away.

But for now, sci-fi authors should be happy.

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