Invisibility Cloak Named One of Science’s Top Breakthroughs of 2006

January 1, 2007

An "invisibility cloak" designed and tested by Duke University engineers was named one of Science magazine's top 10 breakthroughs of 2006.

Science’s Top Ten list appears in the journal’s Dec. 22, 2006, issue.

The cloak, which the magazine refers to as "the ultimate camouflage," deflects microwave beams so they flow around an object hidden inside with little distortion, making it appear almost as if nothing were there.

The research team, led by David R. Smith of the Pratt School's electrical and computer engineering department, reported the first demonstration of a working invisibility cloak made of metamaterials in October in Science Express, the advance online publication of the journal Science. Metamaterials are artificial composites that can be made to interact with electromagnetic waves in ways that natural materials cannot reproduce.

The team produced the cloak according to electromagnetic specifications determined by a new design theory proposed by Sir John Pendry of Imperial College London in collaboration with the Duke scientists. The team reported its theoretical work in Science in May.

The technique used to design a blueprint for the cloak could also be applied to antennas, shields, and myriad other devices, according to the Science report. "Any way you look at it, the ideas behind invisibility are likely to cast a long shadow," the article written by Science's news staff said.

The cloaking invention was also featured as a top technology achievement by PC Magazine and one of the top six physics stories of the year in Discover magazine's January issue cover story "The Top 100 Science Stories of 2006." Smith and his collaborator David Schurig, also of the Pratt School, were additionally named to the "Scientific American 50" for their cloaking efforts. The cloak is slated to appear on the cover of Physics Today's February issue.

Science saluted the mathematical solution to the elusive Poincaré Conjecture, which deals with abstract shapes in three-dimensional space, as their number one breakthrough of the year. For more on the Poincaré Theorem and the complete list of "the runners-up," see Science's original announcement.