back to article Secret of invisibility unravelled by US researchers

Scientists at the University of California in Berkeley have engineered a material that can bend visible light around objects. This development could soon result in technology that can render tanks, ships and troops invisible to the eye. Results of the US military-funded research are expected to appear in the scientific …


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  1. Will Godfrey Silver badge


    So if they manage to bend light equally at all frequencies exactly the right amount (Yeah, right) they will then have a teensy weensy problem. Not only will nobody be able to see them, but they, themselves will be in total darkness.

  2. Jon Tocker

    Of course...

    The stealthed troops are easy to not see in the pic but did anyone else notice the Hobbit wearing Sauron's ring, Harry Potter in his cloak, the Predator and the invisible man are also not visible in the pic - not to mention the Klingon Bird of Prey you cannot see hovering over the field.

    Once again, El Reg surpasses all othe media outlets with this ground-breaking photo...

    IGMC - it's the one hanging on the apparently empty peg...

  3. Tim

    No such material occurs naturally

    How do you know just because you haven't seen them does not mean they are not there.

  4. Dale Morgan

    im confused

    how do they make the stuff visible to construct it into something? the article gives the impression that the material bends light around it, so its invivislbe from the start, no way of making it visible.

  5. Mycho Silver badge

    America, sure.

    Given the name of the prof there is no way any other nation could get their hands on this tech.

  6. Pete Silver badge

    Been done before

    This was first done many years ago. unfortunately the scientist who invented it, put the prototype down somewhere and now can't find it.

  7. Dominic Kua
    Thumb Up

    How convenient...

    Just as G.W. is seen hanging around the women's beach volleyball area, a sudden breakthrough in invisibility occurs.

    Military's probably had this for 10 years, he is CiC after all, putting tax dollars to a purpose at least half the electorate would approve of is surely a first?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In that picture, that tank looks suspicously like ...

    ... a tree.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Assuming you were cloaked head to toe in invisibility material could you see or would there need to be eye holes and wouldn't that give you away.

  10. The Aussie Paradox


    That picture is a fake! I can see where the troops have been photoshopped out!

    /Mines the invisible one.

  11. Joe
    Thumb Up


    Metal Gear Paintball!!

    Also, does this mean paint and dyes will be a restricted weapon on the battlefield?

  12. Adam Foxton

    Love the photo

    I wonder if there'd be a blur as you moved or if it'd be absolutely transparent?

    Also, does it work both close-up and further away (as the convergence / divergence of the images both eyes see changes)

    Does it work all the way around the object, or could it be defeated by the tactic known as "stepping to the left and looking for a suspicious vertical line"?

    Can it work with really intense light, or will it be defeated by a half decent laser diode?

    Does it work with all visible spectrum light, or can it just make you invisible if all the surrounding light is of a certain wavelength?

    Just a few questions, but they seem like the sort of things an "invisibility" system would fall down on...

  13. Emo


    Can't see any foot prints or tracks, photo must be a fake!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Does it work if you throw paint on it?

  15. Steve

    April 1st 2009 already?

    You cannae bend the laws of physics, Captain!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who turned out the lights?

    The problem with invisibility suits, you have to leave your eyeballs exposed, or else you're blind due to the lack of visible light getting in.

  17. Michael Cox

    "No such material occurs naturally..."

    ... or at least not that we've seen yet.

    Mine's the one on the empty coat peg with the faintly detectable shimmer

  18. Eric Olson

    One question, though...

    If the light is being bent around you, how the heck are you supposed to see where you're going? I suppose if you had electronic means to view with, like radar, sonar, etc, that were not bent, but then you could still be detected by mundane means, and where is the high tech advancement in that?

  19. Geoff Mackenzie

    This must be a joke

    I can see them in the picture. They were also on my bus the other day.

  20. Fozzy

    <title needed>

    Wouldn't poking the eyes out of the observer achieve the same results?

  21. Frank Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    re. Nonsense

    "Of course, that last bit's complete nonsense."

    Ahhhh, but is it?

  22. Andy Worth

    I am invisible!!

    As once said in Mystery Men.....

    "Shoveler: So, let me get this straight. You do have the ability to become invisible?

    Invisible Boy: Yes.

    Shoveler: But you can't give us a demonstration?

    Invisible Boy: No. I can only become invisible when no-one's watching.

    Shoveler: So, you're only invisible to yourself?

    Invisible Boy: Oh, no. If I look at myself, I become visible again.

    Furious: can only become invisible when absolutely nobody is watching you?

    Invisible Boy: Yes."

  23. Paul
    Paris Hilton

    Shape and relative motion

    Would the object doing the cloaking have to be spherical?

    Would there be a focal length inside which its distortion would be noticeable, like the eddies behind a rock in a stream which makes the presence of the rock known for a short distance downstream?

    Also a moving (and extremely fast) camera would be able to spot them as the light would be slowed up by having to travel a: further and b: through a material so distant objects would blur. Admittedly it would be an almost unbelievably fast (optical processing, not movement) camera, but we are talking about invisibility shields here.

    Paris as her knickers are already made of this meta-material.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Didn't we see this story last year?

    I'm sure we did.

    Now, as then, my comment is that even if you make the tanks, trucks and squaddies invisible, how are you going to make the exhausts, tracks, bent foliage and noise go away? And while squillions are spent on this technology, better weapons and light-weight body armour might be just as effective and much, much cheaper.

    Of course, if you apply it to Black Helicopters (TM), you just might have something.

  25. Mike Hocker

    Who Needs Glass

    when you have metamaterials at optical wavelengths. Just flow the outside scenery through an itty bitty hole in the wall, and keep the high thermal resistance wall in between.

    Be able to save great gobs of energy that way, none of this Luddite thermally leaky glass rubbish.

  26. Bruce

    I have one of those cloaking devices

    But I can't find it.

    Mine's the one on the 'empty looking' hanger, I think...

  27. Mike

    How Not To Be Seen?

    That tree in the photo is a rather obvious hiding place. If that's the secret to invisibility, they had better improve...

  28. Mark Roome

    I am sure

    David Copperfield did something clever like this a few years ago, making a number of things invisible?

    Can't they just clone him and shove him into whatever it is they want to make invisible?

  29. Simon

    IIRC from earlier efforts

    0) You can't see out of it.

    1) It'll be more of an Invisibility Container

    As understand it, a perfect example of such a container (for you couldn't really wear or drive it) would be undetectable in (a portion of) the EM spectrum at whatever velocity it was moving.

  30. alec horley

    News Flash - 2007

    Stand by for the upcoming news flash when this gets developed:

    "4 killed in tank accident.

    4 British soldiers were lost today as a tank ran them over. The squad, from the amoured 3rd infantry, 'the invisibles', got run over by their support tank during a routine invisible armour training excercise ..."

  31. This post has been deleted by its author

  32. Tom Silver badge

    Acoustical version please

    so we dont get this hysterical braying every time one of their nation does something complicated like chewing gum and walking at the same time.

  33. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    How about refraction?

    I'm all with Adam Foxton. I really wonder if it is possible to coat an object in something which warps light PERFECTLY around it so as to become invisble. Given the difficulties in getting perfection in ordinary optics (even apochromatic lenses are just corrected for three wavelenghts, not all) I very much doubt we could make stuff which perfectly blends you into the background, in all wavelengths, from all angles.

    I would bet there would eb some refraction effects which make the wearer similar to some sort of lens which would certainly distort the scene behind it to some extent. You might be well camouflaged, but not invisible.

  34. Adrian

    Do as they always do in the movies

    Chuck talc powder over the battle field and look for the footprints/tracks

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Are the boffins doing this research actually saying that these meta materials can in theory be used on large scale objects like tanks and people? Or are they hinting that, and just riding the wave of cash flowing from the military top brass, who seem more and more to be influenced by childhood sci-fi? I'm not a physicist, but my gut instinct is that someone is being economical with the truth. The analogy with light and a flowing fluid is flawed. I'd guess at the very best this system would when working results in some kind of adaptive camouflage. I don't think its going to allow me stand unnoticed in Paris' bathroom.

  36. Robin A. Flood

    My disappearing socks

    Every washing machine ever made already has this feature. Put two socks in, run a cycle - short or long, doesn't matter - look inside tub and only one sock is visible.

  37. John Sanders


    Can I use it at the office to avoid detection by stupid managers?

  38. Anonymous Coward

    Correct me if I'm wrong...

    ...but isn't current research in this area limited to very small objects (ie, several molecules in size)?

    Seems too good to be true if it can do big stuff.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    i can see waldo

    Also my house from here

  40. Steven Raith

    FAO Berkely/DARPA

    At least I assume Darpa would have had a hand in this, what with their freaky-tech background.

    Message begins:

    Video evidence or STFU

    Message ends.

    Steven R

  41. Alex Gollner

    Most handy for blind soldiers... no light can enter the 'cloak' to those rendered invisible. The blind will be the best invisible assassins (unless they're played by Ben Affleck in the movie).

    (Paris, because she's already got an invisible coat)

  42. Uwe Dippel

    Maybe hidden behind the tree?

    Finally, the Pythons once again laid the groundwork

  43. Charles Manning

    It exists!

    What they're not telling us is that this stuff has existed for many years and so have flying cars. They paint flying cars with this stuff which is why we never see them!

    I remember 20 years ago people making similar predictions about superconductors. Before Y2K we were going to have superconductor power lines so that the power lines would be lossless (ummm except for the huge amount of energy needed to keep them cold).

    So the whitecoats manage to make a small item disappear in a well controlled environment and we have "soon there will be invisible soldiers and battleships".

    Even very viable technologies take a long time to get to fruition so I can't see (pun if you wish) invisibility happening any time soon.

  44. Steven Knox Silver badge


    A few questions:

    If you bend all the light around you, how do you see where you're going?

    Does painting the object pink first help?

    How closely does the material resemble a towel?

  45. Steve Sherlock


    "No such material occurs naturally and it's only very recently that molecular engineering has advanced sufficiently to give scientists the opportunity to create them."

    How can they be so sure? Surely if it did exist naturally, they couldn't see it?

  46. Tom Silver badge

    This will backfire...

    The US seem to be quite happy to attack their allies vehicles even if they are properly marked!

    But can you imagine the carnage when they try and fire at the enemy through their own invisible troops.

    And another thing - how would you find them after you got out for a slash?

  47. Sam

    Python again

    "How to recognize different types of tree

    from quite a long way away...number one, the Larch. The Larch."

    (I know it isn't a larch, but someone's already done how not to be seen.)

  48. Mike Crawshaw

    @ Robin A. Flood "My Disappearing Socks"

    "Every washing machine ever made already has this feature. Put two socks in, run a cycle - short or long, doesn't matter - look inside tub and only one sock is visible."

    Doesn't work that way here. I put in one pair of socks, I get out 2 socks - each from completely different pairs. I blame the extra-dimensional portal in the back of my washer, but take solace in knowing that a version of myself in another dimension is having the same trouble...

    PS Invisibility is easy. Every time my boss comes towards me carrying a piece of paper, I disappear from sight immediately...

  49. Glyph

    invisibility is nice but...

    I'll take all the other stuff a superlens can do, and his group is working on those as well. I find it odd they announced in this manner, unless I misunderstand the discovery, this is a material with a negative refraction index in the visible wavelengths. This same technology is what they are planning on using to boost optical media sizes through the roof, and drop lithography die sizes down to the silicon limit. It trumps the diffraction limit or so I've read.

    @Charles Manning: yes it took them 20 yrs but Canada and NY both now have superconducting power lines yes?

  50. Steen Hive
    Dead Vulture


    Maybe they'll give some to the Brits - give them a sporting chance of not getting shot in the back.


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