- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2010

Don’t tell Snape. Muggles may soon be able to get their hands on an invisibility cloak, and it won’t require such “Harry Potter” spells as a Disillusionment Charm or Bedazzlement Hex.

New research from a team of Scottish physicists has made invisibility technology feasible, something that you’ll have to not see to believe.

This breakthrough technology, dubbed “Metaflex,” uses atoms that bend light to make a flexible material that would, in theory, be invisible to the human eye, according to a paper published Thursday in the New Journal of Physics.

Thomas Krauss, professor of optoelectronics at the University of St. Andrews and one of the authors of the paper, said that while the immediate focus is on using the technology to create advanced contact lenses that would give the wearer perfect vision, he doesn’t reject the possibility of its application for cloaking technology.

“I don’t foresee that we have a Harry Potter-style cloak anytime soon,” said Thomas Krauss, professor of optoelectronics at the University of St. Andrews and one of the authors of the paper. “The contact lens application is much closer to reality,” possibly within five years.

There have been other technologies that bent light around an object, but it had always been applied to rigid objects. This new research would be put to use on a flexible fabric, Mr. Krauss said.

He said mass production of an invisibility cloak would be feasible if a facility could print large amounts of the fishnet-like membrane and then layer the membranes to create a garment. However, he added, such technology is unlikely for at least another 10-20 years.

And this isn’t the first example of science fiction meeting science reality.

In September, Airbus proposed that by 2050 they will have an airplane with a transparent fuselage, much akin to Wonder Woman’s famous invisible jet. Although they didn’t provide any details as to how this would be possible, they might just use “Metaflex.”

General Motors began research on driverless cars in 2008 with the hope of making driving safer in more congested areas — a technology GM hopes to have ready by 2018, although Lexus and Lincoln have already released models that can park themselves. Driverless cars have been in countless works of science fiction, most notably the 2004 film, “I, Robot.”

The philosophical implications of the ability to be invisible have engaged thinkers from the Ring of Gyges in Plato’s “Republic” to actor-author John Hodgman in a 2001 episode of the public-radio show “This American Life.” Mr. Hodgman proposed a question to people at parties — would you like the ability to fly, or the ability to be invisible.

Those who chose invisibility mainly did so with the hope of sneaking into the movies or onto airplanes, and those chose flight did so with the hope of never having to take the bus, said Mr. Hodgman on the show. He also found in his unscientific survey that men generally chose flight, while women mostly preferred invisibility.

“I think it indicates your level of shame,” said a woman he interviewed named Christine. “A person who chooses to fly has nothing to hide; a person who chooses to be invisible wants, clearly, to hide themselves.”

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