August 11, 2008
Today, your eyes might not deceive you. But soon, they very well might.
Some extremely clever people at Cal (the one at Berkeley) have created a material that can control the direction in which visible light travels.
Apparently, this mystery material, some details of which might be revealed in Science and Nature magazines this week (People and OK weren't interested), deflects light around an object as perceived by an insouciant eye.
"In the case of invisibility cloaks or shields, the material would need to curve light waves completely around the object like a river flowing around a rock," the leader of the Cal researchers, Xiang Zhang, told London's Times newspaper.
In essence, you are looking at, say, the Empire State Building or a John Malkovich-piloted Boeing 747 full of nasty missiles. If these objects are coated with the material, your eyes will see light from behind them, hence creating the illusion that the object in question simply isn't there. I know that there are terrible consequences that may leap to mind in these examples.
For the more technically-minded amongst you, I can tell you that the material the scientists created had to have elements engineered to within 0.00000066 of a meter. This appears to be in a realm that might make wafers suddenly feel ridiculously overweight.
For the rest of us humans, the first twitch of the imagination goes towards whether we would prefer ourselves to be able to disappear. (We would have to calculate distance very carefully, as the material would not mask our body odors, for example. And, if we allowed people too close, they might just bump into us all the time. This is one of the Invisible Man's dilemmas in movies and TV shows.)
However, one's second twitch would be to consider whether there are other things we would very much like to pretend don't exist. Because they are, quite simply, not good for the eyes and, therefore, the environment.
My list would include Buckingham Palace, the Hotel Gansevoort in New York, the whole of Washington Avenue in Miami Beach, most of Warsaw (especially the sky), La Guardia Airport and perhaps even Michael Jackson and Newt Gingrich.
What would your list look like?