Long live Harry Potter.
Of all of Harry Potter’s contributions to our culture, I have to give the most credit to what he’s done for science. In recent years, it seems that every few months a group of scientists somewhere invent what can almost accurately be described as a rudimentary invisibility cloak.
In 2010 scientists at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland created a fabric called “Metaflex” which was made from a “flexible film, or ‘metamaterial,’” that could effectively “manipulate light waves to make objects, like clothing, invisible.” It worked a little, but mostly wound up looking like a greenish trench coat which made wearers about 30% see-through.
Then this past summer Chinese scientists, clearly overcome with Harry Potter fever, built “a reflective ‘carpet cloak’ out of layers of silicon oxide and silicon nitride etched in a special pattern” which was supposed to “approximate a crude invisibility.” I have no idea what that means, but it sounds intriguing.
Now, here in the States, University of Texas scientist Ali Aliev has engineered his own version of Harry Potter’s most coveted magical item.
According to Yahoo, “Ali Aliev uses carbon nanotubes–which look like pieces of thread–and then heats them up rapidly until the objects beneath them effectively disappear.”
As Aliev explains, his invisibility cloak essentially uses the same optical illusion as a mirage to make objects appear to disappear. Yahoo explains:
A highway can become so hot that small circles that look like puddles of water appear in the road. That happens when the road is so hot that the surface bends the light around it, so that the driver sees the reflected sky instead of the pavement. The carbon nanotubes create a similar effect.
Yahoo also reports that experts in the U.K. are creating “temperature-controlled plates to attach to tanks that would make them disappear when viewed through night-vision goggles.”
Of course, the problem with stuff that’s so hot it bends light is that it’s probably pretty tough to wear. It appears scientists are still far away from creating a real invisibility cloak—one that we can swing over our shoulders and terrify our friends with by creating the illusion that our heads are floating—but I’m not giving up hope.
In the meantime, you can find me at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, sipping on a pint of butter beer.