Meta-flex: Your new brand for invisibility clothing

Nov 03, 2010
Photograph of a Metaflex membrane placed on a disposable contact lens and illuminated with office light. The inset is an enlargement of the membrane. Image credit: New J. Phys. 12 (2010) 113006, doi:10.1088/1367-2630/12/11/113006

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of physicists are one step closer to creating a Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak, with a new form of material that could also be attached to contact lenses to provide 'perfect' eyesight. Using tiny atoms that can interact with light, the St Andrews' researchers have developed a flexible new 'smart' material that could theoretically appear invisible to the naked eye.

Flexible smart materials that can manipulate light to shield objects from view have been much-theorised but now researchers in Scotland have made a practical breakthrough that brings the possibility of an invisibility cardigan – or any other item of invisibility clothing - one step closer.

Two challenges to the creation of smart flexible materials that can cloak from visible light are making meta-atoms small enough to interact with visible light, and the fabrication of that can be detached from the hard surfaces they are developed on to be used in more flexible constructs.

Research published today, Thursday 4 November 2010, in New Journal of Physics, details how Meta-flex, a new material designed by researchers from the University of St Andrews, overcomes both of these challenges.

Although cloaks designed to shield objects from both Terahertz and Near Infrared waves have already been designed, a flexible material designed to cloak objects from visible light poses a greater challenge because of visible light's smaller wavelength and the need to make the metamaterial's constituent part – meta-atoms – small enough to interact with .

These tiny meta-atoms have been designed but they have only traditionally been realized on flat, hard surfaces, making them rigid constructs impractical for use in clothing or other possible applications that would benefit from flexibility, such as super lenses.

The research team, led by EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow Dr Andrea Di Falco, has developed an elaborate technique which frees the meta-atoms from the hard surface ('substrate') they are constructed on. The researchers predict that stacking them together can create an independent, flexible material, which can be adopted for use in a wide range of applications.

Di Falco says, "Metamaterials give us the ultimate handle on manipulating the behaviour of light. The impact of our new material Meta-flex is ubiquitous. It could be possible to use Meta-flex for creating smart fabrics and, in the paper, we show how easy it is to place Meta-flex on disposable contact lenses, showing how flexible superlenses could be used for visual prostheses."

Explore further: Asteroid impacts on Earth make structurally bizarre diamonds

More information: The researchers' paper can be downloaded for free here: iopscience.iop.org/1367-2630/12/11/113006/fulltext

Related Stories

Researchers create 3-D invisibility cloak: study

Mar 18, 2010

European researchers have taken the world a step closer to fictional wizard Harry Potter's invisibility cape after they made an object disappear using a three-dimensional "cloak", a study published Thursday in the US-based ...

Practical Cloaking Devices On The Horizon?

Aug 10, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Invisibility cloaks get a step closer to realization, with the demonstration of a new material that can bend (visible) light the 'wrong' way for the first time in three dimensions.

Mathematicians find way to improve medical scans

Jan 07, 2008

Mathematicians at the University of Liverpool have found that it is possible to gain full control of sound waves which could lead to improved medical scans, for technology such as ultra sound machines.

Recommended for you

User comments : 10

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

nuge
not rated yet Nov 03, 2010
I wonder how far along the spectrum this could be taken. I mean, surely the meta-atoms will eventually have to be as small as regular atoms for higher frequencies. It would seem like there be some sort of high-frequency limit, where meta-atoms can not be made any smaller - but I wonder if it would be possible to make an invisibility cloak for X-rays, for example.
Sonhouse
not rated yet Nov 03, 2010
Since atoms are around one angstrom across, give or take, that would be the wavelength limit of any kind of invisiblity cloak, probably a lot wider, My guess is 10 angstroms or so is the minimum wavelength that would have any kind of chance at invisibility. News at 11. Like 111 years from now:)
Ravenrant
not rated yet Nov 04, 2010
And the super lens would do what?
El_Nose
not rated yet Nov 04, 2010
already invisibility cloaking and metamaterial generation are being integrated into non military consumer products???

makes me wonder whats being held back.
shavera
5 / 5 (3) Nov 04, 2010
I'm really getting tired of the media selling metamaterials as an invisibility cloak alone. If I'm not mistaken, the premise for the article seems to be that they've created an optical-regime superlens on a flexible substrate. Superlensing should allow focusing even beyond the diffraction limit of light. I would absolutely love to see that incoporated into contact lenses or other devices.
Sean_W
2.4 / 5 (5) Nov 04, 2010
Odd that no animal has evolved such structures in their skin. Or have they... I sometimes see invisible animals.
sstritt
1 / 5 (4) Nov 04, 2010
I'm really getting tired of the media selling metamaterials as an invisibility cloak alone. If I'm not mistaken, the premise for the article seems to be that they've created an optical-regime superlens on a flexible substrate. Superlensing should allow focusing even beyond the diffraction limit of light. I would absolutely love to see that incoporated into contact lenses or other devices.

I don't understand how a superlens contact could be that useful when the light then has to pass through the eye's lens, which is still diffraction limited.
Skepticus_Rex
1 / 5 (3) Nov 05, 2010
Poke a pin through a business card. Then, look at an object through the hole without your contact lenses or glasses on. Many actually use this trick when forgetting glasses or losing contacts so as to be able to read the menu at a restaraunt.

The above is a similar principle with a technological twist.
Blakut
not rated yet Nov 06, 2010
Hm... invisible cloak != invisibility cloak...
Decimatus
not rated yet Nov 06, 2010
I don't understand how a superlens contact could be that useful when the light then has to pass through the eye's lens, which is still diffraction limited.


That is like saying "why use a telescope when our eye still has to view the information?"

The point of the superlense contacts would be to help our eyes collect and focus light in a much more accurate and efficient manner than is currently possible.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.