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Harry Potter's cloak? No. But it's still invisible

(Read caption) It's not there! New nanometer-scale optical cloaking device (here, too small to be seen with the naked eye) shows that it is possible to fool light into acting as if an object isn't there (an accomplishment you couldn't see anyway because the experiment rendered the object invisible).

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Call it the case of the vanishing bump.

For the first time, two teams have shown that, in principle, they can render a object invisible to light.

It's a small feat -- literally. The size of the experiments' pieces are measured in billionths and millionths of a meter. And it's not exactly visible light, but close, in the near-infrared. But the work has interesting implications -- ones that have nothing to do with Harry Potter-like cloaks or Star Trek's Romulan "wessels," at least for now.

For one thing, the approach could make it easier to design computer chips that use light, rather than electrons to do their work. For another, reversing the approach -- concentrating light rather than bending it in unusual ways -- could lead to more efficient solar cells.

What did the teams do? They took advantage of light's tendency to bend when it moves through mediums of different density -- like air and water. This is why a straw looks like it bends at the point where it enters water in a drinking glass.

Instead of air to water, however, the teams from Cornell and the University of California at Berkeley fooled light into behaving as though it was traveling trough different materials by introducing tiny structures into the silicon material they used.

It's part of a field known as metamaterials, where scientists fabricate existing materials in ways that give the materials properties they don't naturally have.


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