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Researchers working on an invisibility cloak made of glass

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July 22, 2010

Elena Semouchkina holds the ceramic resonators that enable her to make objects appear invi...

Elena Semouchkina holds the ceramic resonators that enable her to make objects appear invisible in microwave frequencies

We’ve covered a few different research efforts looking to develop “invisibility cloak” technology on Gizmag, including 3D metamaterials that negatively refract visible and near-infrared light and U-shaped “nano-rings” that manipulate light. The latest news sure to get Harry Potter fans excited comes out of Michigan Technical University where Elena Semouchkina, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, has found ways to use magnetic resonance to capture rays of visible light and route them around objects, rendering them invisible to the human eye.

Semouchkina and colleagues at the Pennsylvania State University, where she is also an adjunct professor, describe developing a nonmetallic cloak that uses identical glass resonators made of chalcogenide glass, a type of dielectric material (one that does not conduct electricity). In computer simulations, the cloak made objects hit by infrared waves – approximately one micron or one-millionth of a meter long – disappear from view.

Earlier attempts by other researchers used metal rings and wires. “Ours is the first to do the cloaking of cylindrical objects with glass,” Semouchkina said.

Like most other “invisibility cloak” research, Semouchkina’s uses metamaterials, which are artificial materials having properties that do not exist in nature. Hers are made of tiny glass resonators arranged in a concentric pattern in the shape of a cylinder. The “spokes” of the concentric configuration produce the magnetic resonance required to bend light waves around an object, making it invisible.

Metamaterials, which use small resonators instead of atoms or molecules of natural materials, straddle the boundary between materials science and electrical engineering. They were named one of the top three physics discoveries of the decade by the American Physical Society.

Semouchkina and her team now are testing an invisibility cloak re-scaled to work at microwave frequencies and made of ceramic resonators. They’re using Michigan Tech’s anechoic chamber, a cave-like compartment in an Electrical Energy Resources Center lab, lined with highly absorbent charcoal-gray foam cones. There, antennas transmit and receive microwaves, which are much longer than infrared light, up to several centimeters long. They have cloaked metal cylinders two to three inches in diameter and three to four inches high. That’s not exactly big enough to hide junior wizards, but an impressive feat nonetheless.

“Starting from these experiments, we want to move to higher frequencies and smaller wavelengths,” the researcher said. “The most exciting applications will be at the frequencies of visible light.”

So one day, could the police cloak a swat team or the Army, a tank? “It is possible in principle, but not at this time,” Semouchkina said.

The team recently reported on their research in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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