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Thursday, October 19th 2006

As Long As This Doesn't Fall Into The Hands Of The Klingons

The Device At Work

Metamaterial engineering (yeah, I don’t know what that is either) has made the world’s first cloaking device possible. Well, kind’ve. Read on for the limitations.

An invisibility cloak that works in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum has been unveiled by researchers in the US. The device is the first practical version of a theoretical set-up first suggested in a paper published earlier in 2006.

Smith’s cloak works in only two dimensions. It is about the size of a movie reel canister and consists of a series of concentric rings, each housing a set of simple electronic components that distort an electromagnetic field as it passes through.

To study the effect of his cloak, Smith took images of microwaves flowing through the rings, like water waves moving across a pond. Without the cloak in place, the microwaves were reflected and diffracted by the copper ring. But with the cloak in place, the distortion was dramatically reduced.

“It’s not perfect,” says Leonhardt. “If you could see in the microwave region of the spectrum, the copper ring would not quite disappear. You’d see perhaps a shadow and some slight distortion where the copper ring ought to be.”

So, when will you be able to whisk yourself up in a cape and vanish like Harry Potter?

So far, the technology works only in the microwave region of the spectrum. The problem with visible light is that it has a much smaller wavelength, meaning an optical metamaterial would have to be built on the nanoscale, which is beyond the limits of current nanotechnology.

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