Scientists Are Working on a Real-Life Invisibility Cloak

Berkeley Lab
Berkeley Lab / Berkeley Lab

The ability to become invisible will no longer belong only to superheroes and wizards, new research published in the journal Science claims. A team of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley has developed a thin, flexible material that can make objects seem to disappear: a real-life invisibility cloak. (Take that, Harry Potter!)

Invisibility cloaks like this one hide an object from view by “guiding the light around it,” Science explains. This new cloak is made from a metamaterial—meaning a material that’s made to have properties not found in nature—consisting of microscopic gold nanoantennas. These nanoantennas, which are only 80 nanometers thick, distort the light waves coming at the object so that they bounce off it as though the object were a flat mirror. In doing so, they can make 3D objects appear flat and obscure them from view.

“The fact that we can make a curved surface appear flat also means that we can make it look like anything else,” co-lead author Xingjie Ni, a professor of electrical engineering at Penn State, tells Inforum. “We also can make a flat surface appear curved.”

So far, the Berkeley researchers’ invisibility cloak has only masked tiny objects, but they feel confident that flexible, highly reflective materials such as theirs could be made in larger sizes in order to obscure bigger objects.

While many are quick to jump to the military implications of this new technology, Xiang Zhang, director of the Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and one of the study's authors, tells The Guardian he has something else in mind.

“One application might be in cosmetics,” offered Zhang. “You can imagine if someone has a fat belly, like me, and he wants to look nice, he could put this layer on and it will look like a six pack.”