The great science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke famously noted the similarities between advanced technology and magic.
This summer on the big screen, the young wizard Harry Potter will once again don his magic invisibility cloak and disappear. Meanwhile, researchers with Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley will be studying an invisibility cloak of their own that also hides objects from view.
A team led by Xiang Zhang, a principal investigator with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and director of UC Berkeley’s Nano-scale Science and Engineering Center,While the carpet itself can still be seen, the bulge of the object underneath it disappears from view. Shining a beam of light on the bulge shows a reflection identical to that of a beam reflected from a flat surface, meaning the object itself has essentially been rendered invisible.
“We have come up with a new solution to the problem of invisibility based on the use of dielectric (nonconducting) materials,” says Zhang. “Our optical cloak not only suggests that true invisibility materials are within reach, it also represents a major step towards transformation optics, opening the door to manipulating light at will for the creation of powerful new microscopes and faster computers.”
Previous work by Zhang and his group with invisibility devices involved complex metamaterials – composites of metals and dielectrics whose extraordinary optical properties arise from their unique structure rather than their composition. They constructed one material out of an elaborate fishnet of alternating layers of silver and magnesium fluoride, and another out of silver nanowires grown inside porous aluminum oxide. With these metallic metamaterials, Zhang and his group demonstrated that light can be bent backwards, a property unprecedented in nature.
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