Yvonne Carts-Powell

Science Snuggles Closer to Claude

In Heroes Episodes, Science on August 12, 2008 at 3:26 pm

All gone but the smile
Claude Rains, Heroes‘s own irascible invisible man, somehow manages not to be seen. He might be playing Jedi mind tricks on everyone around him so that they don’t notice him — or he might be really, physically, invisible.

Chapter 6 of “The Science of Heroes” covers both possibilities. It also discussed some work on using metamaterials to bend light in ways never before possible. These metamaterials can re-route light around an area, acting like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. When the chapter was written in 2007, scientists had only managed to make metamaterials that worked in the microwave region — where wavelengths are a couple orders of magnitude longer than visible light.

But! Now a group of researchers at University of California, Berkeley made metamaterials that work at visible wavelengths! Very cool!

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  1. If it’s possible to eventually bend light around something on a larger than microscopic scale, could it work just like seeing straight through the thing? It seems like they’d have to do something further to keep the light from refracting off at angles as it went around a larger and less regular object, to avoid the sort of visual distortion by which you could find the invisible object.

    I don’t know that much about the physics of light: assuming they can get the scaling up to work, it might be more practical to first develop invisibility cloaks specifically for the non-changing shape of a spy plane or an unmoving blind, rather than a moving person. Is that a reasonable assumption?

  2. Hey Bina, thanks for commenting!

    If we had enough control over the materials, we (or rather, a very clever lens designer) could combine negative and positive (ie, normal) refractive index materials, to make a pocket that was not just unseen but unseeable — no refraction, no distortion.

    You are right, though, that something with a fixed shape is a lot easier to hide. So far as I know, all the negative-index materials available now are rigid.

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