Thursday, October 27, 2011

Metamaterials and media hype

..John Wallace
..Senior Editor
..Laser Focus World

Optical metamaterials are truly revolutionary: their properties (for example, a printable negative-index material) are like no other, and their nanoscale structure can be varied as a function of position to create unusual devices -- such as "cloaks." The idea is that the electromagnetic properties within the cloak create a coordinate-transformed space that can divide and channel light around an object and recombine it to form a seemingly undisturbed wavefront. Great idea, and extremely difficult to achieve, especially for objects larger than a few wavelengths in size.

It's also extremely difficult to write about, especially by the general press -- which incessantly mangles the topic by prattling on about Harry Potter invisibility cloaks, making readers or viewers think that Harry Potter-style magic is just around the corner.

Just one of many examples:

By the way, in the above example, the "invisibility cloak" is not a metamaterial cloaking device at all. It's simply a switchable photothermal mirror. (Note to the general press: my bathroom mirror is not an invisibility cloak, either.)

So where does the uninformed reader, who is even less informed after reading pop-sci Potter-material articles, expect the first consumer-grade invisibility cloak to appear?

Hammacher-Schlemmer -- where it is simply called "The Invisibility Cloak."

The Apple Store -- where it comes in the form of an iPhone skin.

A toolbar for your browser -- without the feature, the toolbar is gray; with it, the toolbar is gray.

Military surplus -- yeah, we all know the feds developed this years ago and are walking among us even as we speak.

Laser Focus World -- actually, no, you won't find it here. Sorry.

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