Invisibility

Perennial dream of teenage boys, the question of invisibility had haunted the realms of myth, magic and the imagination for millennia. In many legends, angels and demons were often invisible or could become so at will. In ancient and medieval astronomy, the crystal spheres that held up the Sun, Moon, and planets were also invisible.

The modern day infatuation began with Wells.  His famous novel, The Invisible Man (1897), spawned James Whale’s influential 1933 movie adaptation, and countless comic strips and TV series.

Wells daubed the myth of invisibility with a scientific veneer. Wells’ Invisible Man is a scientist.  His theory is this: if a person’s refractive index is changed to precisely that of air, and his body does not absorb or reflect light, then he will become invisible. This he does.  But he cannot become visible again, which drives him mad.

To avoid such insanity, physicists have donned invisibility cloaks rather than swallow a chemical formula.  One such cloak, developed by Professor Vladimir Shalaev at Purdue University in Indiana, is made of angled tiny metal needles that force light to pass around the cloak.  The wearer appears to vanish, without the Wellsian drawback of lunacy.

A working prototype is expected by 2010, though there is one major drawback.  The current design can only bend the light of a single wavelength at a time, and does not work with the entire frequency range of the visible spectrum.

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