Let's get one thing straight: scientists have not invented an invisibility cloak. Nor have they developed an invisibility ring, a car with an invisibility button, or a pill that makes pigs invisible. They have, however, come one step closer to realizing these dreams (or actually just the one about the cloak). A new material created by researchers at Scotland's University of St Andrews can bend light around itself, essentially opting out of the visual spectrum.
In fact, materials like this, called metamaterials, have existed for some time. But the light-bending technology requires a certain kind of building block: the meta-atom. Thanks to its structural properties, in the past the meta-atom has only been used on "flat, hard surfaces, making them rigid constructs impractical for use in clothing," according to a report at Sify. The Scottish team's breakthrough is the development of a "flexible film" that uses meta-atoms. It's not quite the kind of soft, yielding fabrics we love our clothing to be made out of--but it's a closer approximation than we've ever had before.
So what's next? Ortwin Hess, a physicist at Imperial College London, told BBC News that a campaign of bending and folding is in order, to test the way the film reacts to different kinds of manipulation. Down the line, says Hess, potential applications for the material might include handheld cameras and contact lenses--and possibly, yes, an invisibility cloak. "Harry Potter has to wait still," said Hess. "That's the huge goal."
At this point we'd make a joke about being invisible at Hogwarts, but it turns out the Rifftrax guys already beat us to every one we might have thought of. So, enjoy.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.