Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 12:12 UK

High hopes for invisibility cloak

An illustration of a person wearing an invisibility cloak
For now, the invisibility cloak remains a thing of science fiction

A physicist has said he hopes to make major advances in the field of invisibility in the next two years.

Professor Ulf Leonhardt at St Andrews University is working on a blueprint for a cloaking device that could also be used to shield coast lines.

The researcher, who cites the Invisible Woman and Harry Potter as inspiration, has been working on the concept of invisibility since 2006.

The project will focus on a connection between light and curved space.

Prof Leonhardt, who describes his invisibility work as "geometry, light and a wee bit of magic", hopes to manipulate modern metamaterials - or "designer atoms" to create an invisibility device using the laws of refraction.

He believes that in bending light, transparent materials like glass or water appear to distort the geometry of space, which is the cause of many optical illusions, including invisibility.

'Extreme ideas'

Prof Leonhardt said: "The idea of invisibility has fascinated people for millennia, inspiring many myths, novels and films.

"In 2006, I began my involvement in turning invisibility from fiction into science, and, over the next two years, I plan to develop ideas that may turn invisibility from frontier science into applicable technology."

Although the professor admitted it was difficult to predict possible applications, he suggested invisibility research could be used to improve visibility, leading to the development of the perfect retroreflectors (cats eyes), better microscopes and improved lenses.

He added: "I will most certainly find easier ways of cloaking, but it remains to be seen how practical they are.

"The important thing is to understand the foundations and come up with something new or take an existing idea to extremes; using technology and ideas to make things happen - technology we cannot imagine would ever exist."

The project is being funded by the Royal Society's Theo Murphy Blue Skies Award.



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