In the race to make things disappear, scientists gain ground on science fiction
Ulf Leonhardt is riding high these days, with a new award from the Royal Society of Great Britain to further develop his ideas on how to make things in plain sight disappear.
During the past four years headlines have been reporting the baby-step progress by Leonhardt and a dozen or so other teams toward not only cloaking devices, but also supersharp lenses, omnidirectional reflectors (a specialty of Leonhardt’s) and artificial black holes that would swallow light much like a collapsed star in deep space would (SN: 10/10/09, p. 10). All such seeming trickery is born of the same underlying optical sleights of hand. On the physics website arXiv.org, more than 30 papers have appeared in the past year with variants of “cloak” or “cloaking” in their titles.
So far the devices have all been tests of the concept, with nothing close to practical. Furthermore, the small gadgets don’t yet cloak anything perfectly, or cloak anything very large. Some regions that have been made invisible are hard to see without a microscope. And because cloaks that shield longer wavelengths of light are easier to make, first successes came with microwaves — whose radiation can be measured in inches. Some devices work in the infrared with pinhead-sized or smaller wavelengths, with even shorter light waves just now showing up on the agenda.
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