Now You See Me, Now You Don’t
December 22, 2013

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t

At this point, if there is anyone out there who knows me and does not know how much of a total geek I am, then you should really evaluate how well you think you know me. If my Gamemaster’s Grimoire column were not clue enough, I do play tabletop role-playing games regularly, I write science fiction/fantasy as a hobby, I play video games ranging from the likes of Bio-Shock and Dragon Age to Pokemon, and I probably know more about the X-Men than most would consider healthy. I say this because, a while back, I wrote about the invention of the invisibility cloak. When initially researching for that piece, there was a part of me that was hopeful that they were referring to a more Harry Potter or Dungeons & Dragons style cloak of invisibility rather than a Star Trek cloaking device, and was sorely disappointed. The topic was still very interesting, so I wrote on it anyway, but my inner-geek remained disappointed. That is, until now.

Professor of Theoretical Optics Martin McCall of the Imperial College London has theorized how we might be able to attain this nigh-mystical seeming optical invisibility through the use of Transformation Optics. What are transformation optics, you ask? The short answer is that they are materials, or rather “metamaterials,” that are able to alter the flow of light based on electromagnetic radiation. In a similar method to how gravity is said to be able to warp time and space, these metamaterials are able to warp light, bending it, and thus shaping what we are able to see. The result, in this case: invisibility.

Thus far, at least from what I have been able to find, this is all still theoretical, but it has moved from the realm of the speculative to the possible. Obviously, there are many possible military applications for such a technology however, according to Professor McCall, there are many other potential applications for the technology that, for something so fantastical, are quite mundane. Transformation Optics hold a great deal of potential for enhancing the use of solar energy by directing more sunlight into the panels, generating more energy. In addition, the basis for our entire global communication grid is the sending and receiving of optical signals, which could be greatly enhanced by the same technology that is making illusory invisibility a theoretical possibility. Not only are these applications for true invisibility technology more close-to-home, they are also able to be put into practice more quickly. Who knows, by this time next year, kids may be writing down ‘cloaks of invisibility’ in their letters to Santa. Sure, that may be setting the bar for the development of this technology a bit high, but as for me, I am just excited that the possibility now exists.

Image Credit: ullrich / Shutterstock

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