Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Invisibility for Muggles, Military or Trekkies?

As a means of science fiction war, Klingons and Romulans used cloaking devices for their space ships while a rare invisibility cloak was a priceless heirloom given from Death to Harry Potter. Real life scientists at UC Berkley have found a way, ok finally proved it, to bend light in the opposite direction to make objects disappear. Metamaterial culled from a manmade composite coalition of silver and magnesium flouride makes light bend rendering an optical illusion of redirecting light past three dimensional objects, making invisibility possible for the first time. Kinda really cool. Imagine future school kids coming to class with just their legs showing or saying they were not late, just temporarily invisible. It would be an interesting, albeit short lived, prank.

It is more likely the Harry Potter version of scarce and rare will be the order of the day. Beaming people in a quantum fashion was ordinary technology, making Invisibility ubiquitous in all of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek franchises. Nanotechnology seems brilliantly positioned to take massive advantage of these new metamaterials that have to be tinier than a wavelength or a slice of a split end of human hair. The math in the negative refractive index is key to making the light bend backward or not follow the right-hand rule.

"Of course cloaking captures everybody's attention, but these papers aren't [just] about cloaking," said Xiang Zhang, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and head of the research teams publishing related papers in two different journals this week.

"[The studies] are about the ability to engineer these material properties that never exist in nature. With that ability one can do many things, and cloaking is only one of them."
Such materials could also boost the power of microchips and antennas and allow the creation of "superlenses" that could image objects smaller than the wavelength of light, the study authors report.

This is a wow week for physicists and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is about to go on line experimenting on the God Particle theory while US physicists and the National Science Foundation are looking at next generation uses for metamaterials for microscopic scales as new variations are developed that get a bit more obvious to the eye. This latest discovery also fires the imagination of science fiction writers who have a measure of detail that lends credibility to the science developed in the 1940's.
The NSF helped support research into both metamaterials. Additionally, the U.S. Army Research Office helped support the work reported in Nature, and the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research helped fund the project described in Science. (5 year old CNN story/ photo)
The applications of larger scale invisibility are immense from Orwellian tragic usage for government or rich Peeping Toms to a means to give advantages to military or black ops in intelligence services or law enforcement. Stealth technology taken to new heights, depths, widths we won't know about because ramifications won't be seen until its far too late. There are no rules of law that encompass the scope as science outpaces shades of gray legalisms.

John Edwards, no not THAT one, the technology reporter writes The Geeks of War outlining the possible and probable uses of new applications of science. Some bland and innocuous others not so much.

Or in a master's hand, Michio Kaku, brings the possibilities in
Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific exploration into the World of Phaser Force Fields, Teleportation and Time Travel. Just love this.

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