Harry Potter invisibility cloak now a reality

Washington: Turning science fiction that you must have witnessed in sci-fi film “Star Trek” or the “Harry Potter” series into a stunning reality, a team of US scientists has devised the first ever ultra-thin invisibility “skin” cloak that can wrap around an object and make it vanish in a jiffy.

Although the cloak is only microscopic in size, the principles behind the technology should enable it to be scaled-up to conceal macroscopic items as well.

Working with brick-like blocks of gold nanoantennas, the researchers from the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Berkeley Lab and University of California (UC)-Berkeley “fashioned a “skin” cloak barely 80 nanometers in thickness.

It was wrapped around a 3D object about the size of a few biological cells and arbitrarily shaped with multiple bumps and dents.

It conformed to the shape of the object and concealed it from detection with visible light.

“This is the first time a 3D object of arbitrary shape has been cloaked from visible light,” said Xiang Zhang, director of Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and a world authority on metamaterials.

“Our ultra-thin cloak now looks like a coat. It is easy to design and implement, and is potentially scalable for hiding macroscopic objects,” he said in a paper that appeared in the journal Science.

It is the scattering of light – be it visible, infrared or X-ray – from its interaction with matter that enables us to detect and observe objects.

For the past 10 years, Zhang and his research group have been pushing the boundaries of how light interacts with metamaterials, managing to curve the path of light or bend it backwards — phenomena not seen in natural materials — and to render objects optically undetectable.

In the Berkeley study, when red light struck an arbitrarily shaped 3D sample object in an area that was conformally wrapped in the gold nanoantenna skin cloak, the light reflected off the surface of the skin cloak was identical to light reflected off a flat mirror, making the object underneath it invisible even by phase-sensitive detection.

The ability to manipulate the interactions between light and metamaterials offers future prospects for technologies such as high resolution optical microscopes and superfast optical computers.

Invisibility skin cloaks on the microscopic scale might prove valuable for hiding the detailed layout of microelectronic components or for security encryption purposes.