Synopsis: More illusory than invisible

Bent light can do more than render objects invisible—it can make them appear as something else.
Synopsis figure
Illustration: adapted from Y. Lai et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. (2009)

Optical cloaking, a phenomenon that once only had connotations of Hollywood and science fiction, recently moved from fantasy to reality. In 2006, researchers effectively rendered an object invisible by sheathing it in an “invisibility cloak” made of a metamaterial [1], which is a class of artificial composite materials with electromagnetic properties that are more varied than those of their constituents.

Recently, Yun Lai and coauthors at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology proposed the concept of “cloaking at a distance” with a specially designed metamaterial [2]. Now, in a paper appearing in Physical Review Letters, they go a step further. Using the techniques of transformation optics, which allows Maxwell’s equations and topology to bend the space through which light passes, they describe how a particular object could be optically transformed into another: a spoon may appear to be a cup, or one may see a peephole where there is really a solid wall. Rendering an object invisible then becomes one case out of many possible illusions. We await the experimental realization. – Sami Mitra

[1] D. Schurig et al., Science 314, 977 (2006).

[2] Y. Lai et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. 102, 093901 (2009); T. Philbin, Physics 2, 17 (2009).


More Announcements »

Subject Areas


Previous Synopsis

Biological Physics

Protein diffusion

Read More »

Next Synopsis

Related Articles

Synopsis: Hydrogen  Bonding Comes to the Rescue
Chemical Physics

Synopsis: Hydrogen Bonding Comes to the Rescue

Hydrogen bonding may safeguard biomolecules against the damaging effects of UV light. Read More »

Viewpoint: Cold Results from Fast Lasers

Viewpoint: Cold Results from Fast Lasers

Ultrafast lasers show promise to cool down and trap atomic species inaccessible to more traditional methods. Read More »

Viewpoint: Showtime for Molecular Movies

Viewpoint: Showtime for Molecular Movies

Molecular movies of vibrating iodine molecules have been recorded in time-resolved x-ray and electron diffraction experiments. Read More »

More Articles