Scientists have built the best invisibility device yet

Scientists have developed a new device that can make objects invisible (yes, just like in Harry Potter. OK, a bit like in Harry Potter. Either way, I think we can all agree that JK was a tech prophet).

A team from the University of Rochester led by professor of physics John Howell, and graduate student Joseph Choi, built the invisibility (or ‘cloaking’) device using four lenses spaced a precise distance apart. They tested it by putting the object they wanted to hide in front of a grid, and found that when they looked through the lenses, it looked like the object wasn’t there, without any breaking up of the lines of the grid. It even workedwhen the person looking moved a little out of the optimal viewing position.

Cloaking objects works by encouraging light to move around something as if it isn’t there, thus making it impossible for us to see it. Previous designs have worked well at close range, but any slight shift in gaze has made the object visible again, and changes in the background have made it clear there was really something there. ‘This is the first device that we know of that can do three-dimensional, continuously multidirectional cloaking,’ said Choi.

It can also be scaled to allow larger objects to be hidden from view and unlike other attempts at the technology, works for the whole spectrum of light. However, it still needs more work before it’s ready for market, as due to the way the device bends light through its centre, the invisible area is doughnut-shaped, but the scientists have some new designs that they hope will make this less of an issue.

It might seem like more of a personal victory/Potter fan’s dream come true than something that’s going to further the cause of science, but it actually has some useful real world applications. In future, this technology could allow drivers to see their blind spots, or even make doctors’ hands invisible so they can get a good look at what they’re operating on. And, of course, it’s going to take Peekaboo to a whole new level.

Image credit: University of Rochester.

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Diane Shipley

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