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Virtual Cloaking Unveiled

Photonics.com
Nov 2009
WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2009 – Researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany have created a virtual visualization tool that can show what a partially or completely cloaked object would look like in real life.

To illustrate their new tool, the investigators have published an article in the latest issue of Optics Express, the Optical Society’s (OSA) open-access journal, with a series of full-color images.

Cloak1.jpg
Artist’s view of the scenery and corresponding rendered ray-tracing image.

These images show a museum with a large bump in the reflecting floor covered by an invisibility device known as the carpet cloak. They reveal that, even as an invisibility cloak hides the effect of the bump, the cloak itself is apparent because of surface reflections and imperfections. The researchers call this the “ostrich effect” – in reference to the bird’s mythic penchant for partial invisibility.

“It’s important to visualize how an optical device works,” said Jad C. Halimeh, a master of science graduate of the institute who wrote and tested the new software as part of his master’s thesis.

The software, which is not yet commercially available, is a visualization tool designed specifically to handle complex media, such as metamaterial optical cloaks. Metamaterials are man-made structured composite materials that exhibit optical properties not found in nature. By tailoring these optical properties, these media can guide light so that cloaking and other optical effects can be achieved.

Cloak2.jpg
Refractive index distribution of the cloaking structure.

In 2006, scientists at Duke University demonstrated in the laboratory that an object made of metamaterials can be partially invisible to particular wavelengths of light (not visible light, but rather microwaves). A few groups, including one at the University of California, Berkeley, have achieved a microscopically sized carpet cloak. (See: Swept Under the Carpet Cloak) These and other studies have suggested that the Hollywood fantasy of invisibility may one day be a reality.

Cloak3.jpg
Rendered images of the room with mirror on the floor, with an additional bump and with the cloaking structure on top.

Although such invisibility has been achieved so far in the laboratory, it is very limited. It works, but only for a narrow band of light wavelengths. Nobody has ever made an object invisible to the broad range of wavelengths our eyes can see, and doing so remains a challenge.

Another challenge has been visualizing a cloaked object. It is very likely that any invisibility cloak would remain partly seen because of imperfections and optical effects. Up to now, nobody has been able to show what this would look like – even on a computer.

The problem is that metamaterials may have optical properties that vary over their length. Rendering a room with such an object in it requires building hundreds of thousands of distinct volume elements that each independently interact with the light in the room. The standard software that scientists and engineers use to simulate light in a room allows for only a few hundred volume elements, which is nowhere close to the complexity needed to handle many metamaterials such as the carpet cloak, Halimeh said.

So he and his colleagues built the software needed to do just that. Wanting to demonstrate it, they rendered a virtual museum niche with three walls, a ceiling and a floor. In the middle of the room, they placed the carpet cloak – leading the observer to perceive a flat reflecting floor, thus cloaking the bump and any object hidden underneath it.

This work was funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the State of Baden-Württemberg through the DFG-Center for Functional Nanostructures (CFN), by the European Commission within the PHOME project, and by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) via the METAMAT project.

For more information, visit: www.osa.org  


GLOSSARY
metamaterial
A material engineered from artificial matter not found in nature. The artificial makeup and design of metamaterials give them intrinsic properties not common to conventional materials that are exploited as light waves and sound waves interact with them. One of the most active areas of research involving metamaterials currently explores materials with a negative refractive index. In optics, these negative refractive index materials show promise in the fabrication of lenses that can achieve...
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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