Monday, August 30, 2010

Trekkie dream? Cloaking Device in 50 years?

Yes, if expert prognostication in this write-up from the Naval Postgraduate School is close to correct.

The interesting stuff:

“For the case of electromagnetic waves, Maxwell’s equations have transformation laws that allow us to design special electromagnetic materials that steer light around a hidden region, returning it to its original path on the far side,” explained the University of Washington Walker Family Endowed Professor of Mathematics. “Not only would observers be unaware of the contents of the hidden region, they wouldn’t even be aware that something was being hidden. Such an object, which would have no shadow, is said to be ‘cloaked.’

“Cloaking works for any frequency of electromagnetic radiation,” Uhlmann emphasized. “Theoretically, you can cloak any shape you like, and you can make any object look like any shape you want it to look like.”

According to a 2006 Science article quoted by Uhlmann, “The Ultimate Camouflage,” “The real breakthrough may lie in the theoretical tools used to make the cloak. In such transformation optics, researchers imagine – a la Einstein – warping empty space to bend the path of electromagnetic waves. A mathematical transformation then tells them how to mimic the bending by filling un-warped space with a material whose optical properties vary from point to point.”

“But I wouldn’t hold your breath,” cautioned the white-bearded mathematician, looking suspiciously like Merlin. “The nano-level-dependent meta-materials with a negative refractive index and optical properties varying from point to point needed to create such ‘white holes’ will be so difficult to build, they might be experienced by your grandchildren. So, if longevity science enables you to live that long, they’ll still be able to see you,” he chuckled.

Now, it seems to me that there is another route to acquisition of such technology, and we will now see a race of sorts, between those like Dr. Uhlman, who believe we need to actually create this technology from scratch, and those, like Captain James Tiberius Kirk, and his Science Officer, CDR Spock, who believe it would be much easier to simply sneak aboard a Romulan Bird of Prey in mufti and pinch one.