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FRONT AND CENTER
Duke scientists set sights on cloak of invisibility
Artificial materials may make science fiction dream a reality
BY JON VAN
Published September 10, 2006
After years of work, David Schurig and David R. Smith at Duke University will finish their research and have absolutely nothing to show for it: They're making a cloak of invisibility.
So unusual is this undertaking for a serious academic electrical engineering team that Smith has created an elaborate Web site discussing the dream of invisibility as viewed in science fiction--Harry Potter and the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft are mentioned--and relating such ideas to scientific fact.
In theory, Smith said, it's possible to make light follow curved lines that skirt an object rather than illuminate it. Light "circulates around the void--like water flowing past a rock in a stream," Smith explained.
This would create a void in space--a place that is invisible.
It's an interesting theory cooked up by Smith and Sir John Pendry at the Imperial College in London. Even more interesting will be to see if the theory will produce invisibility.
Equations describing the properties of electromagnetic fields were derived in the 19th Century by James Clerk Maxwell, and they can be used to envision how substances would deflect light, said Schurig.
Natural materials would not do the trick, but Duke researchers are designing artificial substances, called metamaterials, that are engineered to be invisible. They use technology for making circuit boards and computer chips to create metamaterials.