A real ‘Invisibility cloak’ is on the way

Life (or science rather) is imitating art in the most exciting way in a long time.  The ultimate secret of stealth is about to become a reality with an invisibility cloak finally on the brink of becoming a reality.

Okay, we’re still a little way away from a cloak but Professor Baile Zhang’s demonstrations at the TED conference were exciting and showed promise for developments on a larger scale.  A small box of calcite optical crystal was used to bend light around an object, making anything behind the box invisible just like we’ve seen in countless films.  Of course the technology is of particular interest to the military who could develop ‘super-stealth’ planes and other ‘cloaked’ vehicles.  But the first things that come to mind at the mention of ‘invisibility’ are the many movies that have tackled the then sci-fi notion of rendering a living, breathing human being imperceptible.

Intended for good but almost always falling into the wrong hands and used for evil, this invaluable tool has been central to science fiction novels since H.G. Wells’s ‘The Invisible Man’ in 1897.  In this example a scientist’s research into optics bears fruit when he is able to make himself invisible but things quickly go awry when he fails to reverse the effects and begins a reign terror. ‘Hollow Man’ staring Kevin Bacon (2000) ended similarly when the he turns against his research team, relishing in his anonymity and refusing to relinquish power of the invisibility capabilities they developed together.  Like in ‘The Invisible Man’ Bacon’s character ends up becoming a murderous psychopath while the invisibility cloak in ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ was far less sinister on the young wizard in this film.

Zhang said the research was “just for fun” and that “the idea is cool,” but also mentioned that it could be helpful to “improve optical fibres, such as cables used for broadband internet, or to create better imaging products such as digital cameras.”  He admits that it will be a long time before this can be applied on a practical level and more work will be done to get over the current limitations.


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