Berkeley Lab

Imagine: You're the proud owner of an invisibility cloak. What do you do? Do you sneak into concerts and make your way on stage? Spy on your friends to find out what they say about you when you're not there? Loiter at Starbucks for WiFi and never buy a second coffee? Or, would you use it to hide your blemishes, and make your stomach appear flat? That's what scientists studying invisibility are betting on, suggesting that their functional but very, very small cloak could one day be used as a cosmetic aid. The future is near, and it will be frivolous.

This illustration shows the invisibility cloak masking a 3D object, and reflecting light the way a flat mirror would.
Xiang Zhang group, Berkeley Lab/UC Berkeley

In a paper titled "An ultrathin invisibility skin cloak for visible light," published this week in Science, researchers from UC Berkeley and the Berkeley Lab discuss the technology that is bringing us even closer to invisibility. In a statement, the Berkeley Lab explained:

Working with brick-like blocks of gold nanoantennas, the Berkeley researchers fashioned a ‚Äúskin cloak‚ÄĚ barely 80 nanometers in thickness, that was wrapped around a three-dimensional object about the size of a few biological cells and arbitrarily shaped with multiple bumps and dents. The surface of the skin cloak was meta-engineered to reroute reflected light waves so that the object was rendered invisible to optical detection when the cloak is activated.

A nanometer is equal to one billionth of a meter, so a cloak 80 nanometers thick is essentially invisible to the naked eye already. But even in its tiny form, the cloak looks awesome:

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And the experiment marked an achievement per corresponding author Xiang Zhang, who stated, “This is the first time a 3D object of arbitrary shape has been cloaked from visible light… Our ultra-thin cloak now looks like a coat. It is easy to design and implement, and is potentially scalable for hiding macroscopic objects."

Macroscopic objects like, for example, your 3D tummy. The Independent explains:

Speculative uses include a face-mask that hides your spots and wrinkles, and a stomach-flattener that replaces your pot-belly with a washboard…[co-lead author Xingjie] Ni said a face-mask would mean that "all the pimples and wrinkles will no longer be visible" while a stomach-flattener "can be made to hide one's belly.

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There are, of course, other possible uses for a true invisibility cloak, like military camouflage and, per CNET, general electronic wizardry, like microscopes, fast optical computers and security encryption.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.