Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Blurring the line between science and science-fiction

Via WaPo - Their Deepest, Darkest Discovery
Researchers in New York reported this month that they have created a paper-thin material that absorbs 99.955 percent of the light that hits it, making it by far the darkest substance ever made -- about 30 times as dark as the government's current standard for blackest black.

The material, made of hollow fibers, is a Roach Motel for photons -- light checks in, but it never checks out. By voraciously sucking up all surrounding illumination, it can give those who gaze on it a dizzying sensation of nothingness.
Maybe that whole "Washington black" line from Psych the other day was more than just a joke. It was the first thing that came to my mind anyway. But the story soon leaves Psych far behind and moves into the realm of Harry Potter and Star Trek:
But scientists are not satisfied. Using other new materials, some are trying to manufacture rudimentary Harry Potter-like cloaks that make objects inside of them literally invisible under the right conditions -- the pinnacle of stealthy technology.

Both advances reflect researchers' growing ability to manipulate light, the fleetest and most evanescent of nature's offerings. The nascent invisibility cloak now being tested, for example, is made of a material that bends light rays "backward," a weird phenomenon thought to be impossible just a few years ago.

Known as transformation optics, the phenomenon compels some wavelengths of light to flow around an object like water around a stone. As a result, things behind the object become visible while the object itself disappears from view.
Honestly, if the article were written on April 1st instead of February 20th I wouldn't believe it. It would seem that they can't yet make things invisible to the naked eye, but I'm guessing it will be just around the corner. Amazing!

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