With this ultra-thin cloth, we’re getting closer to a real-life invisibility cloak

Didn’t someone tell him about the invisibility cloak?
Didn’t someone tell him about the invisibility cloak?
Image: Reuters/Jorge Silva
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Researchers are one step closer to creating an invisibility cloak. While the latest model won’t allow you to get up to the same hijinks as Harry Potter, the ultra-thin cloth is a massive leap forward in the field of invisibility.

When light hits an object, it is reflected in different directions. This is how we see an object’s shape, but an invisibility cloak interrupts this process by cleverly rerouting visible light to create an illusion that flattens a bulky object. Previous versions of the invisibility cloak have been large and bulky, but this latest device is thin enough to be wrapped around the object it is hiding.

The study, published in the journal Science, details how the 80-nanometer thick material, studded with gold nano-antennas, can make tiny 3D objects—about the size of a biological cell—disappear.

The cloak is able to cover up the contours on small 3D sample object that measured around 1,300 square microns in area. The cloak can be turned on and off by the antenna, which lead researcher Xiang Zhang told The Washington Post can “actually delay the light, delay the reflection, in such a way that every point of your face would reflect light as if from a flat surface, like a mirror.”

There are a number of limitations to this invisibility cloak. For one, the antennas have to be tailored to the bumps its hiding, so the so-called magic stops working if you move.

Researchers want to also scale up the cloak to cover bigger objects, but there are many technological hurdles to overcome before that becomes a reality.  For now, it’s an exciting proof of concept and many, including the military, are eager to see the range of applications it can have in the future.