Engineers inspired by movie dinosaurs and camouflaging squid have invented a material that can make things invisible.
Materials that can become invisible have long been the stuff of fiction, though this may no longer be the case in the future.
This is because scientists at University of California, Irvine have invented a material that can change the way they reflect heat, transforming their surfaces from wrinkled and dull to smooth and shiny in less than a second after they are stretched or triggered by electricity.
This makes them invisible to infrared night vision tools.
A paper on this new technology was recently published in the journal Science recently.
According to corresponding author Alon Gorodetsky, an engineering professor, "Basically, we've invented a soft material that can reflect heat in similar ways to how squid skin can reflect light."
Comprising sandwiches of aluminum, plastic and sticky tape, the idea for such a material came from disappearing dinosaurs and camouflaging squid. "We were inspired both by science fiction and science fact—seeing dinosaurs disappear and reappear under an infrared camera in Jurassic World and seeing squid filmed underwater do similar things," said Gorodetsky.
"So we decided to merge those concepts to design a really unique technology," he added.
Lead author and doctoral student Chengyi Xu recalled, "It was hard, especially the first phase when we were learning how to work with the sticky material." After thousands of attempts, he and postdoctoral scholar George Stiubianu eventually saw the mirror-like coating change when they pulled it sideways.
Although an invisibility cloak is not quite on the horizon yet, he and his team are creating prototypes that can be scaled up into sheets of commercial usable material.
Potential uses for such technology include camouflage for troops and insulation for spacecraft, storage facilities, emergency shelters and clinical care, as well as building heating and cooling systems.