for National Geographic News
Rarely, if ever, does physics news pique the interest of Pentagon brass, Harry Potter fans, and aspiring Romulansthose cloaking-device-wielding Star Trek baddies.
But a paper in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science might. In it researchers lay out design specs for materials that they say will be able to bend electromagnetic radiation around space of any size and shape.
The translation for Star Trek fans: Invisibility shields may not be science fiction for much longer.
(Also see "Invisibility Shields Planned by Engineers" [February 2005].)
The theoretical breakthrough is made possible by novel substances called metamaterials.
Invented six years ago, the man-made materials are embedded with networks of exceptionally tiny metal wires and loops.
The structures refract, or bend, different types of electromagnetic radiationsuch as radar, microwaves, or visible lightin ways natural substances can't.
"[Metamaterials] have the power to control light in an unprecedented way," said Sir John Pendry, a theoretical physicist at England's Imperial College London.
"They can actually keep it out of a volume of space, but they can do so without you noticing that there's been a local disturbance in the light."
The new study is by Pendry and physicists David R. Smith and David Schurig of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
The report explains not only how an invisibility cloak might work but also how to make one in theory, at least.
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