Invisibility may have been reserved for fantasy novels and folklore until now, but it looks like invisibility cloaks are not just for Harry Potter anymore.
Scientists have developed a material that’s incredibly thin and doesn’t change the brightness of light around an object.
This means it can “cloak” an object so it disappears beneath it on a flat surface. The basic idea is to bend the light around an object, mimicking the way light would reflect off the surface if the object wasn't there.
Researcher Boubacar Kanté, from the University of California, said in a statement:
Invisibility may seem like magic at first, but its basic concepts are familiar to everyone. All it requires is a clever handling of our views. Full invisibility still seems beyond reach today, but it might become a reality in the near future thanks to recent progress in cloaking devices.
Cloaking technology in itself isn't completely new, but previously it required layer upon layer of the material, making it bulky and unusable, whereas this new dielectric material is just a single layer of teflon studded with ceramic. Previous attempts at cloaking material also tended to absorb some of the light that should've been reflected, creating a sharp drop in brightness around the object - an immediate giveaway. Because it's so thin, the new material doesn't change the brightness around the object at all.
The newly-developed tech can be used for more things than magic cloaks, though. Practical applications include speeding up optical communication and concentrating solar power, according to Kanté:
Doing whatever we want with light waves is really exciting.
Using this technology, we can do more than make things invisible. We can change the way light waves are being reflected at will and ultimately focus a large area of sunlight onto a solar power tower, like what a solar concentrator does. We also expect this technology to have applications in optics, interior design and art.