CIO — Researchers using nanotechnology have taken a step toward creating an "optical cloaking" device that could render objects invisible by guiding light around anything placed inside this "cloak," say engineers at Purdue University.
The Purdue University engineers, following mathematical guidelines devised in 2006 by physicists in the United Kingdom, have created a theoretical design that uses an array of tiny needles radiating outward from a central spoke. The design, which resembles a round hairbrush, would bend light around the object being cloaked. Background objects would be visible, but not the object surrounded by the cylindrical array of nano-needles, said Vladimir Shalaev, Purdue's Robert and Anne Burnett professor of electrical and computer engineering, in a university statement.
The design does, however, have a major limitation: It works only for any single wavelength, and not for the entire frequency range of the visible spectrum, Shalaev said.
"But this is a first design step toward creating an optical cloaking device that might work for all wavelengths of visible light," he said.
Research findings are detailed in a paper appearing this month in the journal Nature Photonics. The paper, which is appearing online this week, was co-authored by doctoral students Wenshan Cai and Uday K. Chettiar, research scientist Alexander V. Kildishev and Shalaev, all in Purdue's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, according to the statement.
Calculations indicate the device would make an object invisible in a wavelength of 632.8 nanometers, which corresponds to the color red. The same design, however, could be used to create a cloak for any other single wavelength in the visible spectrum, Shalaev said.
"How to create a design that works for all colors of visible light at the same time will be a big technical challenge, but we believe it's possible," he said. "It is clearly doable. In principle, this cloak could be arbitrarily large, as large as a person or an aircraft."
The research is based at the Birck Nanotechnology Center at Purdue's Discovery Park. Other researchers published findings in 2006 describing the mathematics generally required for the optical cloaking device. Those researchers include: John Pendry at the Imperial College in London, along with David Schurig and David R. Smith at Duke University, and simultaneously, Ulf Leonhardt at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
"These mathematical requirements were very general, and then we determined how to fulfill the requirements with a specific design," Shalaev said.
Leonhardt, a professor of theoretical physics, wrote a commentary piece about the Purdue paper appearing in the same issue of Nature Photonics. In the commentary, he compares the Purdue design to the Roman creation of "the first optical metamaterial," a type of glass containing nanometer-scale particles of gold. In ordinary daylight, a cup made of the glass appeared green, but then it glowed ruby when illuminated from the inside.