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  • Cloaking Achieved in Visible Spectrum
Jun 2011
KARLSRUHE, Germany, June 2, 2011 — The Karlsruhe invisibility cloak has been refined such that it is now effective in the visible spectral range.

"Seeing something invisible with your own eyes is an exciting experience," say Joachim Fischer and Tolga Ergin, physicists and members of professor Martin Wegener's team at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology's Center for Functional Nanostructures (CFN).

In invisibility cloaks, light waves are guided by the material such that they leave the invisibility cloak again as if they had never been in contact with the object to be disguised. Consequently, the object is invisible to the observer. The exotic optical properties of the camouflaging material are calculated using complex mathematical tools similar to Einstein's theory of relativity.

An electron micrograph image of an invisibility cloak structure. The polymer-air metamaterial ("logs") is colored blue; the gold-coated areas are colored yellow. (Image: CFN)

These properties result from a special structuring of the material. It must be smaller than the wavelength of the light that is to be deflected; e.g., the relatively large radio or radar waves require a material "that can be produced using nail scissors," Wegener said. At wavelengths visible to the human eye, materials have to be structured in the nanometer range.

The minute invisibility cloak produced by Fischer and Ergin is smaller than the diameter of a human hair. It makes the curvature of a metal mirror appear flat, causing an object hidden underneath to become invisible. The metamaterial placed on top of this curvature looks like a stack of wood but consists of plastic and air. These "logs" have precisely defined thicknesses in the range of 100 nm. Light waves normally deflected by the curvature are influenced and guided by these logs such that the reflected light corresponds to that of a flat mirror.

"If we would succeed again in halving the log distance of the invisibility cloak, we would obtain cloaking for the complete visible light spectrum," Fischer said.

Last year, the Wegener team presented the first 3-D invisibility cloak in the journal Science. Until that time, the only invisibility cloaks existed in waveguides and were of practically two-dimensional character. When looking onto the structure from the third dimension, however, the effect disappeared. By means of an accordingly filigree structuring, the Karlsruhe invisibility cloak could be produced for wavelengths from 1500 to 2600 nm. This range is not visible to the human eye, but plays an important role in telecommunications. The breakthrough was based on the use of the direct laser writing method (DLS) developed by CFN. With the help of this method, minute 3-D structures could be produced with optical properties that do not exist in nature, so-called metamaterials.

In the past year, the KIT scientists continued to improve the already extremely fine direct laser writing method. They used methods that have significantly increased the resolution in microscopy. With this tool, they refined the metamaterial by a factor of two and produced the first 3-D invisibility cloak for nonpolarized visible light in the range of 700 nm. This corresponds to the red color.

"The invisibility cloak now developed is an attractive object demonstrating the fantastic possibilities of the rather new field of transformation optics and metamaterials. The design options that opened up during the last years had not been deemed possible before," Ergin said. "We expect dramatic improvements of light-based technologies, such as lenses, solar cells, microscopes, objectives, chip production and data communication."

(See: Virtual Cloaking Unveiled)

For more information, visit:

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...
visible spectrum
That region of the electromagnetic spectrum to which the retina is sensitive and by which the eye sees. It extends from about 400 to 750 nm in wavelength.
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