Scientists' perfect "invisibility cloak"

Harry Potter fans, rejoice! A breakthrough in transformational optics has brought us one step closer to Hogwarts

By Katie McDonough
November 13, 2012 4:11AM (UTC)
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First, there was that recipe for butter beer. Then, Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans started appearing on the shelves of Muggle (translation: non-magical) candy shops. And now, at a considerably higher price point, the invisibility cloak has become a reality. And while you can thank clever marketing executives for the Hogwarts-inspired confections, the invisibility cloak is no gimmick -- it's a scientific breakthrough.

A team of Duke University scientists have developed a garment that can completely conceal a small object. Using a row-by-row design of fiberglass etched with copper and copper strips, the intricately woven cloak bends light around an object so that it appears invisible to microwaves and the naked eye. "We built the cloak, and it worked. It split light into two waves which traveled around an object in the center and re-emerged as the single wave with minimal loss due to reflections," explains Nathan Landy, a graduate student who worked on the project. This design is an improvement on a 2006 prototype that, due to a less precise fabrication process, continued to reflect light around the edges of the concealed object, leaving it partially exposed.


But don't plan on prowling the hallways of Hogwarts after hours just yet; the invisibility cloak only works in one direction. The Duke team plans to use their latest findings to work toward a fully three-dimensional illusion. Until then, die-hards will have to console themselves with a hearty mug of butter beer and wait.

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak J.k. Rowling Science Technology