Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Invisibility, Anyone?

Way back, a few decades ago, I was in a screenwriting class, and the assignment was to do an adaptation of a classic short story. I chose "The Damned Thing" by Ambrose Bierce; the story of an invisible beast causing all sorts of havoc. I loved the opening scene of the coroner examining the latest victim spread out on a table in a room full of onlookers, and that chapter's title: "One does not always eat what is on the table."

The instructor for the course said I did a good job of translating the narrative into action, and succeeded in being faithful to the original story, while still making it my own, and yet he still graded me down for my choice of story. "The damned thing about it," he said, was that it was "just completely unbelievable." Perhaps Bierce could fool some 19th century boobs into thinking an invisible creature or some sort of invisible material could exist, but not a mature audience three-quarters of the way into the 20th century.

Well, here in the 21st century, researchers at the University of California Berkeley have just invented a light-deflecting technique that could one day be used to make materials that would render objects invisible. Yep. The invisibility cloak. Real. And the scientists say that "there is no fundamental reason why the same principles cannot be scaled up one day to make invisibility cloaks big enough to hide a person, a tank or even a tanker."
The work at Berkeley is the latest development in the 40-year scientific quest to make light, and other electromagnetic waves, jump through hoops and bend to human will.

In essence, the Berkeley scientists created two unimaginably tiny mazes using nanotechnology that, by virtue of the materials used, exert subtle electromagnetic effects that confuse light waves into developing the physics equivalent of a split personality.
Yes. It is now theoretically possible to create a material that bends light around it, giving it the appearance of whatever is behind or beside it. "And the Damned Thing is of such a color."

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