Berkeley Lab Researchers Create Ultrathin Invisibility Cloak
Invisibility cloaks are a staple of science fiction and fantasy, from Star Trek to Harry Potter, but don’t exist in real life, or do they? Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley have devised an ultra-thin invisibility “skin” cloak that can conform to the shape of an object and conceal it from detection with visible light. Although this cloak is only microscopic in size, the principles behind the technology should enable it to be scaled-up to conceal macroscopic items as well.
Working with brick-like blocks of gold nanoantennas, the Berkeley researchers fashioned a “skin cloak” barely 80 nanometers in thickness, that was wrapped around a three-dimensional object about the size of a few biological cells and arbitrarily shaped with multiple bumps and dents. The surface of the skin cloak was meta-engineered to reroute reflected light waves so that the object was rendered invisible to optical detection when the cloak is activated.
“This is the first time a 3D object of arbitrary shape has been cloaked from visible light,” said Xiang Zhang, director of Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and a world authority on metamaterials – artificial nanostructures engineered with electromagnetic properties not found in nature. “Our ultra-thin cloak now looks like a coat. It is easy to design and implement, and is potentially scalable for hiding macroscopic objects.”
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One team has already made a cat ‘disappear’ with a device that has huge military potential
Mainland scientists are increasingly confident of developing the world’s first invisibility cloak, using technology to hide objects from view and make them “disappear”.
The central government has funded at least 40 research teams over the past three years to develop the idea, which until now has largely been the stuff of science fiction and fantasy novels like the Harry Potter series.
The technology would have obvious military uses such as developing stealth aircraft, but Beijing believes the research could lead to wider technological breakthroughs with broader uses, scientists involved in the research said. The teams involved include researchers at Tsinghua University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The main approaches are developing materials that guide light away from an object, creating electromagnetic fields to bend light away from what one is trying to hide and copying nature to make hi-tech camouflage materials.