Invisibility cloaks; stealth armor; invisible jets - a team of physicists at Scotland's University of St Andrews have made a breakthrough that could make these items a reality.
All you have to do to make someone or something invisible is cloak them from visible light. Simple, right?
Science has already created metamaterial cloaks that shield objects from light with long wavelengths such as tetrahertz and near infrared, but the wavelength of visible light is quite small, and the building blocks of those metamaterials - meta-atoms - have to be small enough to interact with visible light.
Meta-atoms that bend visible light have been created, but they've been constructed using a backing of metamaterials that are stiff and rigid, which doesn't allow for flexible applications, such as the aforementioned invisibility cloak.
The St Andrews' research team, led by EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow Dr Andrea Di Falco, has a simple solution: Remove the meta-atoms from the metamaterials. they've developed an elaborate technique for doing just that, and predict that by stacking these meta-atoms together an independent, flexible material can be created.
They've called this new material Meta-flex, which sounds like a 1950's Superman villain.
You can read about the entire process at the New Journal of Physics.
This new material can be applied to a wide variety of practical applications. Dr. Di Falco gives one example.
"Metamaterials give us the ultimate handle on manipulating the behaviour of light. The impact of our new material Meta-flex is ubiquitous. It could be possible to use Meta-flex for creating smart fabrics placed on disposable contact lenses to create superlenses that could further enhance vision. Typical lenses generally have some form of limitation, such as aberration or limited resolution, but these perfect lenses would have none of these deficiencies."
Of course coming up with practical applications is nowhere near as fun as coming up with impractical ones. what uses could you find for a flexible material that bends visible light?
Okay, other than sneaking into the women's (or men's) bathroom?
Scientists create 'invisible' material [University of St. Andrews - thanks Craig!]