University's 'Metamaterials' Cloak 3-D Objects

Dennis Faas's picture

They're the stuff of Disney fantasy and childhood dreams, but invisibility cloaks are something University of California scientists stay they are one step closer to developing.

The scientists at the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, lead by Xiang Zhang, are creeping closer to perfecting 'metamaterials', artificially engineered structures that have properties not seen in nature, such as negative refractive index. These metamaterials have recently undergone successful tests allowing scientists to cloak 3-D objects.

The technology works when the metamaterials scatter the light that strikes them via a mixture of metal and circuit board materials like ceramic, Teflon, and fiber composite. Zhang and his fellow scientists are using these materials to actually bend light around three-dimensional objects.  Sources are comparing the feat to very natural occurrences, such as the way water adjusts to foreign objects (like a human's body). (Source:

As it was previously thought that the technology could only render 2-D objects invisible, Zhang and his team's recent achievement is big news for the field. (Source:

Although clearly the University of California staff has made some astonishing discoveries, it is difficult not to be somewhat unnerved by the possible applications. Aside from being every child's wildest dream, the ability to shield people and objects from view has some potentially frightening military applications. However, the study's members are quick to dispel that notion: "cloaking may be something that this material could be used for in the future," he said. "You'd have to wrap whatever you wanted to cloak in the material. It would just send light around. By sending light around the object that is to be cloaked, you don't see it." For the moment, the technology is more likely to be used in the construction of more powerful optical devices. Improved microscopes might even be able to detect living viruses. (Source:

The study's results have been printed in the journals Science and Nature, with funding for the project coming from the United States government.

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