The cylinder, which works by attracting and repelling magnetic field lines
at the same time, would not be hard to manufacture, physicist Alvar Sanchez, one of the researchers, said.
Two magnets near each other will have either an attractive or a repulsive force
between them, something many people figure out as children by playing with refrigerator magnets. “The thing is, can we surround one of these magnets with something so that this interaction is lost?” said Sanchez, a physicist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. “The answer is yes, if you use our cloaking device
.” The new device obliterates that natural force between magnets, rendering a magnetic object inside it invisible to a magnetic detector.
“This is a seminal experimental paper in the evolution of cloaking technology,” John Pendry
, a theoretical physicist at Imperial College London who came up with the first theories for invisibility cloaks
, wrote in an email to InnovationNewsDaily.
In the past, several research groups have created cloaks that hide objects from light waves and microwaves. This is the first time anyone has made a cloak for magnetic fields, though physicists have known theoretically how they should work, Pendry wrote.
Making things invisible to magnetic detectors is generally easier than making things invisible to the human eye. Visible light
is made of moving waves that have both magnetic and electric properties. Magnetic fields are a kind of special case of electromagnetic waves, with wavelengths at the longest end of the spectrum. At those lengths, magnetic field lines are motionless and they don’t have electrical effects. That means they’re simpler to work with than visible light or other electromagnetic waves such as microwaves.
“It’s a very special condition that makes the job easier,” said Andrea Alù, an engineer at the University of Texas at Austin who created an invisibility tube for microwaves
Sanchez first published his idea in September 2011 for rendering things magnetically invisible. At the time, his plan was a cylinder made of several layers, which would be difficult to create. But he eventually hit on the idea of using just two layers. In his March 22 paper, he used physics equations to show the two-layered device would work theoretically, then made and tested a sample device.
The cylinder is made of different materials on the inside and outside, like a pirouette cookie with a layer of frosting inside. In this case, the inner layer is a superconductor, kept cold with liquid nitrogen. The superconductor repels magnetic fields, blocking an outside sensor from penetrating the layer. The outer layer is made of an iron alloy
that attracts magnetic fields.
Sanchez and his colleagues carefully chose the superconductor and the iron alloy to have the right balance of repulsion and attraction so that the device guides magnetic field lines around it in a way that makes the lines look as if they are flowing unperturbed through the device and the object.
Pendry said, “If an object does not disturb the magnetic field lines, then it is invisible, magnetically speaking.”
The materials Sanchez and his colleagues used are readily available, so their device can be commercialized. “You don’t need to buy very expensive and complicated things,” Sanchez said.