Scientists move one step closer to creating Harry Potter's invisibility cloak

From the curious things department and Queen Mary University of London:


Scientists at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have made an object disappear by using a composite material with nano-size particles that can enhance specific properties on the object’s surface.

Researchers from QMUL’s School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, worked with UK industry to demonstrate for the first time a practical cloaking device that allows curved surfaces to appear flat to electromagnetic waves.

While the research might not lead to the invisibility cloak made famous in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter novels quite yet, this practical demonstration could result in a step-change in how antennas are tethered to their platform. It could allow for antennas in different shapes and sizes to be attached in awkward places and a wide variety of materials.

Co-author, Professor Yang Hao from QMUL’s School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, said: “The design is based upon transformation optics, a concept behind the idea of the invisibility cloak.

“Previous research has shown this technique working at one frequency. However, we can demonstrate that it works at a greater range of frequencies making it more useful for other engineering applications, such as nano-antennas and the aerospace industry.”

The researchers coated a curved surface with a nanocomposite medium, which has seven distinct layers (called graded index nanocomposite) where the electric property of each layer varies depending on the position. The effect is to ‘cloak’ the object: such a structure can hide an object that would ordinarily have caused the wave to be scattered.

The underlying design approach has much wider applications, ranging from microwave to optics for the control of any kind of electromagnetic surface waves.

First author Dr Luigi La Spada also from QMUL’s School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, said: “The study and manipulation of surface waves is the key to develop technological and industrial solutions in the design of real-life platforms, for different application fields.

“We demonstrated a practical possibility to use nanocomposites to control surface wave propagation through advanced additive manufacturing. Perhaps most importantly, the approach used can be applied to other physical phenomena that are described by wave equations, such as acoustics. For this reason, we believe that this work has a great industrial impact.”


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Mark - Helsinki
July 17, 2016 11:29 am

There is no way this is not going through military control first and foremost, this is at best old science newly reported.
Any such tech would immediately be commandeered under national security

Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
July 17, 2016 2:39 pm

You are horrifically optimistic about the competence of our militaries. Second, it doesn’t work on things in motion, or from different perspectives. As active camouflage, it’s effectively useless for the foreseeable future,

Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
July 17, 2016 4:15 pm

it’s really not that hard to hide tiny objects with other means.
the special properties of metamaterials do not scale.
the bigger the object and the broader the spectrum the harder it is to conceal.
sunlight and size mean you won’t be hiding anything that matters with metamaterials.
it may end up having no application whatever.
for now it’s just fun with physics.

Reply to  gnomish
July 17, 2016 11:33 pm

What more reason do you need then ‘just fun with physics’?

Reply to  gnomish
July 18, 2016 1:04 pm

I have lots of fun with physics
But if you have a wife, she will be able to illuminate you regarding the distinction between a hobby and a job.
I have my fun at my own expense and don’t take from you to support my hobbies.

Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
July 17, 2016 5:38 pm

The military already has cloaks for frequencies other than visible light. IR reduction and stealth for various microwave energy. Considering planes and ships are painted to match their surroundings and modern weapons are launched beyond visible sight This tech really doesn’t matter too much. Be good for tanks though, not to mention the average GI.

Reply to  expat
July 17, 2016 7:40 pm

they are not cloaks. they are simply non-reflective.
they work because the background is also non-reflective
black on black doesn’t show.
camouflage is also not cloaking.

Gary Meyers
Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
July 18, 2016 6:15 am

Commandeered? Most likely the research involved here was no doubt funded by the US government in the first place.

george e. smith
Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
July 18, 2016 10:52 am

Weirdest looking Armadillo stripe, I have ever seen !!

Tom Halla
July 17, 2016 11:33 am

Only seven distinct frequencies? Or broader bands with seven central frequencies? The first would only be effective against a laser-illuminated vision system, while the second might be useful.

July 17, 2016 11:44 am

Monty Python covered this 46 years ago…
“How not to be seen”.

Reply to  PA
July 17, 2016 12:16 pm

And that just about sums it up.

michael hart
Reply to  TonyL
July 17, 2016 1:32 pm

Indeed. If only it was that good.
I’m a great fan of J.K.Rowling, but there are some prime ejits out there who also read her books.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  PA
July 17, 2016 1:56 pm

Yeah, Harry Potter was pretty late to the magical invisibility game.

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
July 17, 2016 3:06 pm

Bilbo’s ring comes to mind…

David A
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
July 17, 2016 10:07 pm

The marauders map on the other hand is very doable now. I suspect tagging people with stealth GPS is an active field.

george e. smith
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
July 18, 2016 10:59 am

Well Alberich’s Tarnhelm was also probably not the first invisiblator.
If Harry Potter can skim mucho bucks off teenies, for J.K. Rowling, then more power to her. Capitalism is good.

Reply to  PA
July 17, 2016 4:22 pm

That’s the ‘why’, and not really the ‘how’, isn’t it?

July 17, 2016 11:50 am

An absorbed, non scattered wave would make the object appear black, the only way you can achieve true visibility is to project the environment behind it.

Reply to  Sabretruthtiger
July 17, 2016 11:51 am

sorry ‘true invisibility’

Reply to  Sabretruthtiger
July 17, 2016 12:22 pm

Very true. When tuned to visible wavelengths, the object is black, or looks like a hole in the world right in front of you. When tuned to various microwave wavelengths used for radar, it is called “stealth”.

george e. smith
Reply to  TonyL
July 18, 2016 11:13 am

ALL radiation from everything behind the object must propagate beyond the object completely unaltered, in order for that object to be rendered invisible.
That implies that the radiation must pass un-deviated through the object and un-attenuated, or else it must alter course around the object and return to its prior path, unchanged in any way.
I suspect the Optical Sine Theorem prohibits any such system; which ultimately rests on the second law of thermodynamics. At least Rudolph Clausius said so (and proved it).
Since A = Sin(A) = Tan(A) is not true for finite size (not infinitesimal) angle (A), no perfect optical system is possible, even without having to remove a blockage. The image cannot be both sharp and also geometrically undistorted, except for infinitesimally small angles.

Dr. Strangelove
Reply to  TonyL
July 19, 2016 6:52 am

An invisible cloak must be a photographic plate that creates a hologram of the environment behind it. So it’s not the bending of light rays to create an image but the recording and reconstruction of a light field. This way Clausius prohibition can be avoided.

george e. smith
Reply to  TonyL
July 19, 2016 11:08 am

So Dr. Strangelove, I guess Clausius was an idiot.
Why not describe just one way the second law of thermodynamics can be avoided.
PS Holographic plates require a laser to illuminate them, so they are totally dependent on coherent illumination. They also have very limited fields of view.
Have YOU ever seen a hologram that looked even remotely like ANY real scene ??
Just asking !

george e. smith
Reply to  TonyL
July 19, 2016 11:44 am

NO Optical system exists (at any wavelength range) that can form a sharp geometrically undistorted REAL image of ANY finite sized three dimensional object. That means in practice or in theory.
There is at least one (maybe it is two) real realizable optical system that CAN (in theory) form a VIRTUAL image of a REAL three dimensional finite sized object; BUT !!
It can only form such a virtual image of ONE very specific REAL finite sized object. (specific to that optical system). The virtual image (in the limitation or ray optics (ignoring diffraction effects)) is an exact (mathematically) geometric likeness of the real object at one very specific scale.
The only such real object that can be virtually imaged, is a portion of a spherical shell (surface), and of course the virtual image is a concentric spherical shell image.
One possible system makes a smaller scale image, and the other makes a larger scale image. In one system, the object is inside the optical element, and in the other system, the virtual image is inside the optical element, so the object or the virtual image can only exist in theory, and are probably not physically realizable.
No real lens such as a camera lens can form a geometrically undistorted image of any finite sized three dimensional object. By finite size we mean an object that is not miniscule compared to the focal length of the lens.
For example, NO lens of say 100 mm focal length can form a 3D image of say a Rubik’s cube, that is not geometrically distorted (grossly).
The reason for that is that any such lens forms an image at some lateral magnification (m) that also has a longitudinal magnification (along the optical axis), and the longitudinal magnification is (m)^2.
So a cube of say 80 mm side, forming an image at 1/5 lateral magnification, (so an 80 mm square looks like a 16 mm square image, but the axial depth of the three D image will be only 1/25 of 80 mm, so much less than 16 mm.
Even that is not correct, because the two faces of the cube being at different distances from the leans, will have different lateral magnifications, so even weirder axial magnifications.
Even a very small object is likewise distorted. A 1 mm cube imaged at a 1/5 magnification would be 0.2 x 0.2 x 0.04 mm so grossly distorted.
So don’t expect any undistorted “images” of invisible real objects any time soon.

July 17, 2016 12:10 pm

I maybe cannot see you, but I can see a problem arise if you are invisible and standing in the middle of the road.
Kids these days.

Jason Calley
Reply to  TonyL
July 18, 2016 5:20 am

Hey TonyL! Perhaps what you are describing is not a cloak of invisibility, but rather a cloak of inanimation.

July 17, 2016 12:16 pm

This is the technology that made Brexit possible.
We are going to cloak the UK so the Eurocrats will no longer be able to find us.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  graphicconception
July 17, 2016 1:49 pm

They can’t find their @$$ with both hands so shouldn’t be too had.

Reply to  John Harmsworth
July 18, 2016 6:27 am

Good one! It got a chuckle from me.

son of mulder
July 17, 2016 12:18 pm

Just because you haven’t seen an invisibility cloak doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Reply to  son of mulder
July 17, 2016 1:24 pm

Well, yes, but if you have seen an invisibility cloak they don’t exist.

South River Independent
Reply to  PA
July 17, 2016 8:54 pm

No. It just does not work.

Jason Calley
Reply to  PA
July 18, 2016 5:22 am

🙂 Good one, PA!

July 17, 2016 12:18 pm

Wait now, something is wrong with your headline photo. How is it light from the background scenes goes right through the invisible person but not light from the sun to obliterate the shadow. I want my money back.

Reply to  Arbeegee
July 17, 2016 1:25 pm

You beat me to it.

Reply to  Arbeegee
July 17, 2016 2:46 pm

There are two possibilities.
1: It’s monodirectional, similar to the forced perspective trick in cinematography. I’ve seen “invisibility cloak” technology that works in that way (however, that was a camera-projector trick, so it would look like the guy’s wearing a cloak in the shadow).
2: It’s Photoshop.
My bet’s on 2.

Reply to  benofhouston
July 17, 2016 11:00 pm

My bet is it’s an artist’s concept. =)

Reply to  Arbeegee
July 17, 2016 4:24 pm

It’s like so much Climate “Science”: For illustrative purposes only.

July 17, 2016 1:02 pm

Use telescope, binoculars, an ordinary lens or just a hole in peace of and project on a peace of white paper cardboard (but never, ever look directly with sunglasses, dark filters or anything else !!!)
may not get another opportunity soon .

Reality Observer
Reply to  vukcevic
July 17, 2016 2:28 pm

So that’s why we’re not seeing any spots! Invisibility cloaks!
Must be a conspiracy by those nasty “d” people, to alarm everyone…

July 17, 2016 1:15 pm

I invented the invisability cloak years ago, it’s just gathering dust in my garage, next to my antigravity device, cold fusion experiment and my temperamental doomsday device…

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Sparks
July 17, 2016 1:51 pm

My invisibility cloak is so good I can’t find it!

Reply to  John Harmsworth
July 17, 2016 4:41 pm

I hate when that happens, do you want to borrow my anti-invisibility cloaking device? it’s in the corner beside the box that says “do not touch”

Reply to  John Harmsworth
July 17, 2016 5:24 pm

People are always leaving those things behind on the bus.

David A
Reply to  John Harmsworth
July 17, 2016 10:10 pm

Its invisibility socks that are the real mystery. Getting them in pairs is even harder.

David Smith
July 17, 2016 1:17 pm

Now the warmists can hide all the increasing Antarctic sea ice. Just paint it with the nano-stuff!
Even better, use it to hide the decline!

Robert Wykoff
July 17, 2016 1:34 pm

I poured spot remover on my dog. Now he’s gone.

Reply to  Robert Wykoff
July 18, 2016 9:23 am

Maybe if your dog’s name had not been Spot all would have been well?

July 17, 2016 2:00 pm

I assume the photo is a fake? Nice promo.

Reply to  dradb
July 17, 2016 4:51 pm

Since a cloak doesn’t know your perspective angle there should be some artifacts on a real cloak. The photo is pretty low resolution which would hide some artifacts.
The photo has been stripped of EXIF data.
A really clean file makes me suspicious it was photoshopped then cleaned.

george e. smith
Reply to  dradb
July 19, 2016 12:35 pm

No it’s a real photo. It’s just the image that is fake.

July 17, 2016 2:02 pm

HA! I’ve been invisible to women for years. They are slow catching up.

July 17, 2016 2:18 pm

Could you reverse the process to triple your percieved battlefield presence ??

July 17, 2016 2:38 pm

This discovery is a big step forward for climate science. It will prove invaluable in making inconvenient truths like the 1940s warm peak, the Medieval, Roman and Minoan warm periods, ice ages, indeed all palaeo climate records, such an obstacle to the CAGW narrative, disappear!

Reply to  ptolemy2
July 17, 2016 3:04 pm

“white out” works just as well… (☺)

Reply to  afonzarelli
July 18, 2016 7:21 am

Only until you page down.

July 17, 2016 3:47 pm

I’m a 48yr old white disabled vet in rural area.
I am already invisible……
for 5$ each I’ll tell people how to do it LOL

Steve from Rockwood
July 17, 2016 4:22 pm

Can this be used to hide the Obama legacy (small caps, of course)?

July 17, 2016 4:42 pm

I have this invisible material that you can see right through. I think I will call it “glass”.

Reply to  lorcanbonda
July 17, 2016 5:43 pm

Transparency works …

In the open ocean, where there is no background, the principal methods of camouflage are transparency, silvering, and countershading, … link

There are lots of transparent critters. Some of them are pretty gross because not every part of them is equally transparent.

July 17, 2016 6:48 pm

If we want to learn the art of invisibility, why not study cats more? Perhaps we could learn how they teleport, as well.

Reply to  RoHa
July 17, 2016 7:05 pm

All I have to do is run the electric can-opener and my cats appear instantly, RoHa.
Similarly, all our enemies would have to do is pop the top on a bottle of beer and pour it into a glass, shout “Jack Daniel’s chaser!” and our troops would magically appear.

Reply to  H.R.
July 18, 2016 12:23 am

Yes, an empty room, then a little shimmer in the air, and a cat materialises in front of you.

Philip Schaeffer
July 18, 2016 5:30 am

Slow news week?

July 18, 2016 7:16 am

The Romulans had a cloaking device long before Potter was born.

July 18, 2016 10:26 am

This is old news. The AGW Climate Crusaders have employed invisibility cloaks against the facts and prediction error for years.

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