Previous metamaterials actually absorbed most of the light, rather than bending it away, reducing the "invisible" properties. The new materials were designed to keep energy away from the most absorbent materials.
"It's like when you try to cross a river and keep your feet dry. You may jump across stones and cross without getting your feet wet," study leader Zhang said.
"That's exactly what we did. We tried to engineer these materials such that energy passing through is hopping through [other materials] and not the metal—because in the metal you have a big energy loss."
David Schurig, a physicist and metamaterial expert at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, called the types of materials discussed by both papers "probably the most exciting metamaterials in existence today."
"Even in their current state, or maybe a few generations [later], they could have applications in optical communications or imaging," added Schurig, who was not involved with the research.
But, he noted, efforts to cloak anything above microscopic size are likely quite a ways off.
"You want to cloak things that are big, otherwise they are already essentially invisible, because they are [microscopic]," Schurig said.
"To cloak a person, you need metamaterial that's on that length scale, and that's much, much bigger than what [these papers] have demonstrated."
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