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Invisibility Cloaks Get Bigger

Print out big sheets of metamaterials to create real-life invisibility cloaks? A new technique developed by John Rogers, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, seems to make this possible.

Although practical invisibility cloaks are still in the future, we've been getting close. However, most cloaking devices are too small (see Invisibility Cloaks Seen As Possible With Metamaterials and Invisibility Cloak Fools Naked Eye ), or require the manipulation of spacetime (see Spacetime Cloak Of Invisibility Conceals Events ).


(Largest sheet of metamaterial ever made)

Metamaterials are made up of intricately patterned layers, often of metals. The patterns must be on the same scale as the wavelength of the light they're designed to interact with. In the case of visible and near-infrared light, this means features on the nanoscale. Researchers have been making these materials with such time-consuming methods as electron-beam lithography.

Rogers has developed a stamp-based printing method for generating large pieces of one of the most promising types of metamaterial, which can make near-infrared light bend the "wrong" way when it passes through. Materials with this so-called negative index of refraction are particularly promising for making superlenses, night-vision invisibility cloaks, and sophisticated waveguides for telecommunications.

The Illinois group starts by molding a hard plastic stamp that's covered with a raised fishnet pattern. The stamp is then placed in an evaporation chamber and coated with a sacrificial layer, followed by alternating layers of the metamaterial ingredients—silver and magnesium fluoride—to form a layered mesh on the stamp. The stamp is then placed on a sheet of glass or flexible plastic and the sacrificial layer is etched away, transferring the patterned metal to the surface. So far Rogers says he's made metamaterial sheets a few inches per side, but by using more than one stamp he expects to increase that to square feet.

As far as I know, the first reference to an invisibility cloak in science fiction is the invisible cloak from Ray Cummings 1931 classic Brigands of the Moon. Humans have been fascinated by this topic; Greek and Norse mythology have plenty of examples. The first science fiction novel about invisibility is, of course, The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells in 1897.

Via MIT's Technology Review.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/11/2011)

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