The world of science fiction is rife with examples of invisibility - whether it is Harry Potter’s cloak, Romulan cloaks integrated into a spaceship’s shields, or the One Ring that helped our favorite hobbits steer clear of orcs. Of course, actually creating a device that is capable of bending light so an object appears to be invisible to the eye is a fairly tall order.
However, a group of materials scientists led by Debashis Chandra at the University of Central Florida have made significant strides forward to making this long-fabled device a reality. By using nanotransfer printing, the team achieved optical properties across a large swath of material that have never been accomplished on such a large scale before, breaking barriers toward the development of a cloak that could make an object appear to be invisible. The results were detailed as a cover story in the journal Advanced Optical Materials.
The team was able to a 3D metamaterial from nanotransfer printing. The multilayer design carefully controls the refracting index of the material and allows visible light to be bent in a precise way. The pattern printed onto the material turns it into a metal/dielectric composite film, which allows the visible range on the electromagnetic spectrum to be manipulated. These layers together are able to create the precise geometry needed for these optical properties to work. Creating this material on the nano-scale is a great improvement to previous attempts that could only occur at the micron-scale.
Chandra notes that “such large-area fabrication of metamaterials following a simple printing technique will enable realization of novel devices based on engineered optical responses at the nanoscale.”
As the technology gets developed further, the team will be able to develop larger swaths of the cloaking material that is able to bend visible light, bringing us one step closer to the ability to hide military personnel better than a ghillie suit, shielding jets in flight, or even sneaking into that boring morning meeting at the office 15 minutes late.
Okay, all joking aside, the technology used in developing the metamaterials used in invisibility devices have some incredible commonplace, real world applications. Metamaterials would be useful in biomedicine, as they could help in diagnosing disease and eliminating tumors. The ability to regulate heat could be used in managing the temperature of sensitive satellites and telescopes. Computing also stands to receive a boost from metamaterials, as circuits in the future could move light instead of electrons, which would make them considerably faster.