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"This category [science fiction] excludes rocket ships that make U-turns, serpent men of Neptune that lust after human maidens, and stories by authors who flunked their Boy Scout merit badge tests in descriptive astronomy."
- Robert Heinlein

Invisibility  
  The idea that it is possible to make a person invisible using some sort of optical technology to alter the body.  

Griffen, a somewhat obsessive and unpleasant 22 year old student, turns himself invisible in large part to avoid enquiries into his work by the authorities. They have confused his turning a cat invisible with vivisection - doubtless an easy mistake to make, not least when it jump-starts the book's plot.

Now on the run, Griffen explains the science of invisibility at very great and wearisome length to his friend Dr. Kemp.

"You make the glass invisible by putting it into a liquid of nearly the same refractive index; a transparent thing becomes invisible if it is put in any medium of almost the same refractive index. And if you will consider only a second, you will see also that the powder of glass might be made to vanish in air, if its refractive index could be made the same as that of air; for then there would be no refraction or reflection as the light passed from glass to air."

"Yes, yes," said Kemp. "But a man's not powdered glass!"

"No," said Griffin. "He's more transparent!"

"Nonsense!"

"That from a doctor! How one forgets! Have you already forgotten your physics, in ten years? Just think of all the things that are transparent and seem not to be so. Paper, for instance, is made up of transparent fibres, and it is white and opaque only for the same reason that a powder of glass is white and opaque. Oil white paper, fill up the interstices between the particles with oil so that there is no longer refraction or reflection except at the surfaces, and it becomes as transparent as glass. And not only paper, but cotton fibre, linen fibre, wool fibre, woody fibre, and bone, Kemp, flesh, Kemp, hair, Kemp, nails and nerves, Kemp, in fact the whole fabric of a man except the red of his blood and the black pigment of hair, are all made up of transparent, colourless tissue. So little suffices to make us visible one to the other. For the most part the fibres of a living creature are no more opaque than water."

From The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells.
Published by Unknown in 1897
Additional resources -

Contemporary research into invisibility tends to concentrate on active camouflage systems, as described in Wired and demonstrated at Tokyo University, rather than on altering the basic constituents of the human body.

Armoably Wells - or Griffen - was pipped to the post by Charles Dodgson, an Oxford University mathematics lecturer who, writing as Lewis Carroll introduced us in the 1865 book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to the Cheshire Cat, famed for disappearing gradually until only his grin remained.

This item was contributed by Simon Smith.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Invisible Man
  More Ideas and Technology by H.G. Wells
  Tech news articles related to The Invisible Man
  Tech news articles related to works by H.G. Wells

Invisibility-related news articles:
  - Invisible Animals (If Not Men)
  - Invisibility Using Plasmonic Covers

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