Now you see it: Invisibility cloaks make the journey from fiction to fact - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson

Scientists in Singapore have unveiled a new development in “invisibility cloak” technology that is sure to excite children, even the few who are not fascinated by Harry Potter.


Now you see it: Invisibility cloaks make the journey from fiction to fact

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 11 June 2013


By Helen Ward

Scientists in Singapore have unveiled a new development in “invisibility cloak” technology that is sure to excite children, even the few who are not fascinated by Harry Potter.

Videos of experiments carried out at Nanyang Technological University show a glass cloak suspended in a bowl of water. Plants in the bowl are clearly visible through it, but when a fish enters the bottom of the cloak it disappears before emerging again at the top.

In a second film, a kitten walks along and dips its paw into the cloak – it disappears, yet the background is visible throughout.

People have long wished for a cloak or hat which makes the wearer invisible. In fiction, such a cloak was inherited by Harry Potter in the books by J. K. Rowling, but thousands of years previously, the idea of being able to slink around unseen was part of the Greek myth of Perseus, who used a helmet that rendered him invisible enabling him to sneak up on the sleeping Medusa.

Now real life is catching up with these fantastical stories. The science of invisibility, also known as transformation optics, first drew international attention in 2006 thanks to Sir John Pendry, chair in theoretical solid state physics at Imperial College London, who developed the idea of being able to bend light around objects rather than it being reflected as usual.

The latest experiments were led by Dr Baile Zhang, an assistant professor of physics and applied physics, who showed off a tiny invisibility cloak at a TED talk in February this year. Using a box of calcite, a cheap mineral that bends light, he made a rolled-up Post-it note that had been submerged in “laser oil” disappear.

That experiment depended on the oil helping to bend light, but the new development seems to have overcome that requirement, hence the international excitement.



Questions:

  • Invisibility cloaks have appeared in Harry Potter, among other works. If you had to pick one fictional invention to bring to life, which would you choose and why?
  • Can you think of any ways that we could bend light here in the classroom?
  • Do you think developing such technology is worth the cost involved? Justify your answer.
  • If you could make yourself invisible, what would you do with your newfound power?

Resources


Invisibility science demonstration

  • Check out this video on invisibility from TES Connect partner The Royal Society. .

Science is magic

  • Have fun with this set of magic tricks to introduce students to the wonders of science.

Harry Potter

  • Bring a bit of Hogwarts, witchcraft and wizardry into class with lessons inspired by Harry Potter.

Inventors and inventions

  • Take children through a series of activities that turns them into scientific inventors.


Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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