No Longer Light Years Away: Invisibility Is a Possibility

German scientists experiment with hiding 3-D objects by bending light waves.

ByABC News via logo
March 20, 2010, 8:48 AM

March 20, 2010— -- It was once the stuff of movie wizards: a cloak that can make someone disappear. But now, thanks to a major scientific breakthrough, that Hollywood illusion is closer than ever to becoming a reality.

"Harry Potter, watch out," said Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of Theoretical Physics at City University of New York. "There are many steps towards the 'invisibility cloak,' and we just took a huge step in that direction."

Scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany were able to cloak a tiny bump in a layer of gold, preventing it from being detected at nearly visible infrared frequencies. It's the first time researchers have been able to render a 3-D object invisible.

So how did they do it?

"It's called metamaterials. We once thought they were impossible, but we made them in the laboratories. With microwave radiation, for example, you can take a ring, a two-dimensional flat ring, put something inside, and microwaves go around it as if there's nothing there," said Dr. Kaku, who also hosts "Sci Fi Science" on the Science Channel.

But what does that mean in layman's terms?

"The way we see is basically light being reflected off of objects. So what this does it manipulate the path of that light, basically," said Jacob Ward, deputy editor of Popular Science magazine. "It comes back to you at an angle such that you think what you're seeing is not really there. It takes advantage of the fundamental principles of light and vision. It makes things invisible as a result."

But before you get too excited, scientists say, at first, the invisibility will look more "Predator" than "Harry Potter." You'll still be able to see the outlines and distortions of objects.