Invisibility cloak ‘appears’ at TED Talks

Chris Morris
Plugged In26 February 2013

The Elder Wand and Resurrection Stone may still be locked away in J. K. Rowling's imagination, but the third Deathly Hallow made a rare appearance on stage in Long Beach this week.

Baile Zhang, an assistant professor of physics at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, showed off his "invisibility cloak" on Monday at the TED2013 talks in Long Beach.

Speaking as part of TED Fellows Day, when young researchers, artists, and techno-geniuses seen as being worthy of mentoring give short four-minute presentations, Zhang wowed the crowd with his amazing cloak.

As you might guess, Zhang's cloak is a bit different than the one Harry Potter wore. It's tiny right now, very much in the prototype phase. And while you might expect it to have some grand purpose, it doesn't. Zhang created it solely for fun.

Speaking with editors at Boing Boing, Zhang explained that the cloak is made of two optical crystals that are found in nature. When cemented together, they bend light and suppress shadows to the point that they can hide objects. The demo at the show saw the cloak (which is kept in a tiny clear box) make a Post-It note vanish.

The TED talk was the first time Zhang’s Invisibility Cloak has been shown publicly to a large audience, though scientists have been enamored with it for years. In 2010, an earlier version of the cloak ranked fourth among the year's top 10 breakthroughs, as ranked by Physics World.

Some people on Twitter were even more enthusiastic – although, it wouldn't be Twitter without a little snark.

"In race to invent cool random stuff, invisibility cloak on track to beat flying car," noted Luke Buckmaster.

Lord Voldemort, we're guessing, is a little less enthused.

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