Throughout the ages people have been fascinated with the idea of invisibility and it has been a favourite theme in stories such as Shakespeare’s The Tempest, The Invisible Man by HG Wells and more recently JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books.
Now scientists at the University of St Andrews in Scotland are working on a material called Metaflex that could take invisibility from the realm of fantasy into the real world.
Invisibility can be achieved by manipulating light, and while metamaterials have previously been produced to manipulate light so that objects are invisible at longer wavelengths, using this technique to manipulate visible light is more difficult.
This is because the short wavelength of visible light means that the metamaterial atoms would have to be so small that they couldn’t be manufactured – until now.
Andrea Di Falco of St Andrews University has published a paper in the New Journal of Physics, describing a way of fabricating nanostructures, which are small enough to manipulate the shorter waves of visible light, on a thin polymer film rather than the rigid silicon that has previously been used.
This creates a flexible metamaterial which could make Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak fact rather than fiction.
The technology will have obvious military and espionage applications as it provides the ultimate form of camouflage. It could also be used to protect valuables from prying eyes.
The worrying aspect is that it isn’t likely to stay solely in the hands of the good guys.
Imagine how useful a criminal, a vigilante or even a member of the paparazzi would find the power of invisibility; the world would be a far more dangerous and less private place.