Free Invisibility Lesson and Slide Show!

So maybe you’ve checked out our Invisibility Kit based on the Rochester Cloak and wondered about the history of invisibility and where the technology demonstrated by the kit fits in with the history and future of invisibility as a viable application. We now offer a FREE downloadable lesson on Invisibility and a FREE downloadable powerpoint presentation on Invisibility too!

Turns out we humans have been pondering invisibility for a long time. One of the first recorded stories that references making a person invisible is found in Plato’s Republic. And stories of invisibility are also found in the mythology of many different cultures. Since then it’s been showing up regularly in science fiction books and movies; invisibility first appeared on Star Trek in 1966 when a Romulan Bird of Prey equipped with a cloaking device attacked the Starship Enterprise. Then, in 1997 Harry Potter and his Invisibility Cloak appeared and rekindled the public’s fascination with the possibility of such a thing.

It wasn’t until 2006, almost 10 years after Harry Potter was first published, that physicists from Duke University created the first ever, actual invisibility cloak. They did it with the use of metamaterials which are a class of manmade materials that have unusual properties not found in nature. One property of all metamaterials is that they can make light waves behave strangely. It’s this strangeness that allows scientists to use them to make things invisible … as well as some other very cool things including actually engineering light itself!

That first ever invisibility cloak was amazing in that it demonstrated that some form of invisibility was possible, but it only worked with microwave light and only with 2D objects, not 3D. However, since 2006, scientists have made a lot of progress on creating invisibility cloaks with new metamaterials and it continues to be a promising technology.

  • In 2007, the military worked on creating an invisible tank!
  • In 2008, scientists at UC Berkeley brought us one step closer to a Harry Potter style invisibility cloak by designing a metamaterial that is capable of changing the direction of both visible and near-infrared light in 3D! This essentially amounts to making light bend backwards!
  • Early in 2010 scientists at Tufts and Boston Universities make a very small invisibility cloak that can manipulate terahertz waves…BUT, it is of gold coated silk… expensive.
  • Later in 2010, the journal Nature reports that a more effective, not to mention much less expensive, metamaterial made of calcite crystals is created.
  • Up until 2012, invisibility cloaks remained “imperfect” in that while they were capable of bending light around an object, they all reflected some incident light. Now, researchers from Duke University had created a “flawless” invisibility cloak that could totally hide tiny objects by directing all light, including incident light, around them.
  • In 2013 researchers at the University of Texas, Austin solved another problem that all invisibility cloaks had up until then: large size and expensive, cumbersome set ups.


The Present

And then, in 2014, John Howell, a professor at the University of Rochester and doctoral student Joseph Choi created a method for creating regions of invisibility WITHOUT meta materials using a very simple 4 lens set up. By simple refraction and some complicated math, you can have your own Rochester Cloak – the worlds first perfect paraxial ray optics cloak.

According to Dr. Howell potential applications for the technology include using cloaking to effectively allow a surgeon to “look through his/her hands to what s/he is actually operating on”. The same principles could be applied to a truck to allow drivers to see through blind spots on their vehicles.

The Future

Invisibility has countless possible applications for the future. In the field of medical science, invisibility cloaks may be used by surgeons to see through their own hands as they operate, or into the organs of the patient. Doctors could see unborn babies in perfect clarity and check them for early defects or diseases.

Using invisibility cloaks to mask obstructions between transmission towers could allow the exchange of radio waves to continue unhindered, leaving us all with better and more reliable cell phone reception.

The development of new more advanced and easier to work with metamaterials in the pursuit of invisibility opens doors to creating lenses that are stronger than any we’ve manufactured to date. Scientists may someday develop lenses that can see microscopic objects, like the inside of a human cell, or even a strand of DNA!

Invisibility cloaks may even be extended to not only cloak electromagnetic waves, but also longitudinal waves like sound. It might even dampen the waves produced by an earthquake! The best part about invisibility is that the greatest innovations in the field are still beyond our wildest dreams.