A scientist at the University of Texas in Dallas has created a thermal ‘invisibility cloak’, in reality’s answer to James Bond’s invisible car and Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, according to a report from NBC. Unfortunately, as is often the case despite the dreary cliché, the truth is much less interesting than fiction.
Ali Aliev is a UTD physicist who has created a threadlike material from carbon nanotubes. He discovered that if the nanotubes are subjected to heat, they will bend light around themselves, effectively rendering them invisible. At the moment the technology only works on a few threads within the confines of Aliev’s laboratory, but he has been quick to point out the potential applications of the technology once it has been developed and scaled up. The invisibility cloak works better underwater than in air, and works almost instantly at the touch of a button, so a lot of progress has already been made.
The quest to develop invisibility or cloaking technology has stepped up a gear recently, following the development in the UK of a thermal cloak that disguises infra-red signatures – so that cloaked tanks can apparently be made to look like cars or cows through night vision goggles.
It’s a shame the technology wasn’t developed a few years earlier. Iraqui soldiers defending Baghdad could at least have felt they were living in a surreal dreamscape when their city was invaded, and statues of Saddam Hussein toppled, by what looked like dozens of angry cows. And if tanks can be disguised as cows, the logical next step is to fit cloaking technology to aircraft, so Gaddaffi’s loyalists could have been demoralised after ceaseless nightly attacks from squadrons of flying grand pianos. Future wars could be an altogether more magical experience.
People are very excited about the prospect of a real life invisibility cloak, and life imitating fiction, but they never seem to notice that in fiction people wearing invisibility cloaks are absolutely always discovered sooner or later. Even the eponymous Invisible Man in the HG Wells novel can’t walk down a street without people realising there’s something wrong. In terms of superhero powers, invisibility is almost as pointless as the kid who could fix laptops in Heroes.
In any case, both Ali Aliev’s thermal invisibility cloak (which NBC notes works according to the same principles as mirages created by desert heat), and the UK system are years away from having any practical commercial or military applications. But that hasn’t stopped sections of the media from getting ever so excited about the discoveries. Invisibility cloaks are now theoretically possible, but don’t look out for them in next Spring’s fashion catalogues!