Cloaking experiment draws comparisons to 'Harry Potter'
October 17th, 2011
11:01 AM ET

Cloaking experiment draws comparisons to 'Harry Potter'

Researchers at the University of Texas in Dallas say they have discovered a form of "invisibility cloak," but don't think you'll have "Harry Potter" powers quite yet.

But, is it true that J.K. Rowling's fictional wizardry could become scientific fact? CNN Geek Out spoke with Dr. Ray Baughman, Director of The Alan G MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute there at UT Dallas, to find out.

CNN Geek Out: How did this experiment come about and how does it work?

Baughman: It started after Chinese researchers discovered that our carbon nanotube sheets can be used as thermo-acoustic loudspeakers. Loudspeakers of this type have been known for a long time. You heat up a material and it causes air surrounding the material to expand and you get soundwaves.

These sheets have a very low density so as a consequence it takes very low energy to heat them. They also have high thermo-conductivity.

We took these carbon-nanotube sheets underwater to make sonar projectors.

One thing that came out of all this research was that these carbon-nanotube sheets can be used as photo-thermal deflectors. You can scan light, and move it around, and this is a cheap and fast way to do it.

One of my former students, Carter Haines, discovered that if you move a laser across these sheets, you get different sounds depending on how fast the laser goes. The laser beam is deflected.

In this case, you’re seeing it by light. So we started out looking at the behavior of the materials and found a mirage effect, like when sometimes, you look at something from a distance it looks like a puddle of water. What’s happening is you have a very low angle of observation with respect to the road. When you’re looking at this “puddle,” you’re really looking at the sky.

I was at this global climate project at Stanford University, and I saw this wall in front of this beautiful patio, and there’s this garbage can. And I said, “Well, we could really cloak that. We could deflect the light so what you saw was the wall behind the garbage can.”

In “Harry Potter” and “Fellowship of the Ring,” the light goes around the material and cloaks the object. In our version, this brick wall continues on both sides of the garbage can. The wall doesn’t go on behind the garbage can but it would look like you’re seeing it.

It was actually fairly late in research that comparisons to these movies came up.

CNN Geek Out: How long did all of this research take?

Baughman: About nine months including revisions to the paper and so forth. We move fast.

CNN Geek Out: Was there a lot of excitement when this discovery was made, did you have a big ‘Eureka’ moment?

Baughman: The paper was originally titled ‘The Mirage Effect’ before we saw anything. It’s one thing to see a light being deflected, that’s nice. But to actually see something disappear, now that grabs your attention.

CNN Geek Out: Was there a pretty immediate reaction from the world at large?

Baughman: This only happened within a couple of days. Half a million viewed the video within a couple of days. This news flurry really took me by surprise.

CNN Geek Out: Could someone conceivably put on an “invisibility cloak?”

Baughman: It’s nice to excite the imagination but we’re far from doing that. The temperature dependence of the refractive index which determines the speed of light is much bigger in liquids than in air. So there underwater, right in front of you, you can see things disappear. The most immediate application is thermal deflection. But if the person were in the ocean, they could disappear underwater. But they don’t really disappear in that sense, because a cloak is being heated up. So if a person had an infrared camera, they could still see them.

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soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. magician guide

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    June 16, 2012 at 6:02 am |
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    June 11, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  3. Jungle Shooter

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    January 25, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  4. Flower Power

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    January 25, 2012 at 10:36 am |
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    Very good article, I'll bookmark this.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:38 am |
  6. hpgeek

    Did anybody else notice that Baughman is alot like Bagman, as in Ludo Bagman beeter for the Wasps?

    October 27, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • edgtrhjr

      Haha! Youre right. I sense a bit of irony...

      November 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Yulechka

      607Typical Seattle Recession Type DataEven in the 80s recession the serlels were reluctant to deal, until they had to. It's totally different this time IMO, the price fixing serlels cannot hold off forever with 0.2% interest on their bank savings, pensions getting eliminated, drawbacks [and COLA freezes] on their Social Security, property taxes eating them alive at old unrealistically higher assessed values and Freddie/Fannie bailouts can't last forever either.The smart serlels in my book sold last year at 15-20% below today's holdouts .just wait and see in 2011 and 2012.

      September 15, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  7. Rho

    It does sound more like the movie Predator with light reflecting camouflage technology. And they will definitely use it in the government as a weapon, it's a pretty scary thought. Hopefully when it's perfected it will be used for good and not harm.

    October 18, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  8. ready

    lord of the rings came up with this, uneducated idiots

    October 18, 2011 at 1:53 am |
    • UrTheIdiot

      It was a reference to visual example of what it might be like, so the interviewer (and people with more imagination than you) could at least understand the concept. You're the idiot. People like you never cease to amaze me.

      October 18, 2011 at 2:11 am |
      • Doughboy

        Is that really all there is to it because that'd be flabebragsitng.

        December 25, 2011 at 9:16 am |
      • evtaiupgvis

        2twTTh wsuctungsrjv

        December 25, 2011 at 11:02 am |
      • ssahbkc

        utKIh2 mpfkiommvaxk

        December 28, 2011 at 7:33 am |
    • Jacky

      aznstupid on October 20, 2011 how about The One sintrrag Jet Li. Gameplay would be RPG story would be similar to actual movie. Semi-Super cop chasing a criminal who is trying to go around killing himself in different dimensions to power himself up and he ends up being the character you play etc etc etc

      March 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  9. TechMeister

    So I'm guessing that the air fluctuations around the top are from heat generated by this device? Or is it part of the illusion?

    October 18, 2011 at 12:16 am |
  10. Duke Has Done It

    As mentioned below, Duke did this years ago, learn to do actual research CNN.

    October 18, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Someone else

      In re Duke – yes and no. The Duke invention can only handle a very narrow wavelength of light at a given time. and is restricted to microwaves, which are longer wavelength than visible light. The Duke device passes light around an object, making it invisible. The invention being described here is more like a mirror, and relies on reflecting light from the surrounding environment.

      In both cases there are obvious limits to the technology. There is no indication, for example, that they can make the object invisible using a randomly oriented sheet of material, like a sheet wrapped around a person. Also, there will likely be a phase difference introduced by the cloaking devoice, so the light being passed around by it will noticeably shimmer. Thus the object will not be truly invisible.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:50 am |
      • Someone other than Someone else

        The Duke method is actually better because it allows you to see what's behind the object instead of mirroring the environment. Sure, they can't use the visible spectrum but it's hopefully possible. Not probable, but possible.

        October 18, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  11. Think less!

    It is just like how you are under water and you look up at the surface at an angle and you see a reflection. Meaning this contraption needs to be underwater to work!

    October 17, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
  12. Duke Cloak

    Duke University created a Working Invisbility Cloak years ago. It was reported on October 16, 2006. Here is a link to their article:

    October 17, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  13. green

    The first attempts for the phone were more ridiculous than that. And now? ....tablets ... pffff.

    October 17, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  14. Oxymoron

    Addendum to my last post. I meant you would see the nano tubes through it if you looked at it straight on. Look carefully and you can even see the water at the surface being disrupted.

    October 17, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Michael Begala

      This just shows the principle that anything we humans can think and dream of is possible. We may not know all the facts needed to do it yet, but if our belief drives our desires, we will overcome. I know how to create anti-gravity, I just do not know all the details needed just yet. My theories even make sense when you see UFOs referred to as Saucers over the last 50 years.

      October 17, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  15. Oxymoron

    Notice how they are showing it from an angle, it's basically just a reflection off of a layer of air underwater. If you looked at it straight on you would see through it.

    October 17, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
  16. The_Hawk

    My wife made my schlong invisible. For a few moments, anyway.

    October 17, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • jdoe

      Big deal. It's almost invisible anyway.

      October 17, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • Mr. Turcotte

      grow the hell up

      October 17, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  17. jdoe

    This technology is real, and it will have military applications. It may not make things completely invisible up close, but would work very well at a distance, better than any of the current camouflage technology.

    October 17, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Think less!

      It would reflect the surface of the earth meaning the missile would look like water trees and rocks.. I would definitely notice that!

      October 17, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  18. somsone

    This needs to be hidden and unused before it destroys our planet. It will fall into the wrong hands... becoming a method to cloak missiles, bombs, ships, planes, boats, cars, people, weapons, and other disastrous materials.

    October 17, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  19. And a great

    Pretty neat, but the article TlTLE needs revision.
    LOLS I hate this retarded censorship, I can't post the world TlTLE properly without using a work around.


    October 17, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  20. stamps

    I can hear Ahhhrnold from Predator now...."get to da choppah!"

    October 17, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  21. Kayla


    October 17, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  22. And a great

    Comparing it to an invisibility cloak is over doing it.

    October 17, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  23. And a great

    Perhaps they can engineer this technology to become some sort of energy shield! It can deflect some light. What else can it deflect?

    October 17, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  24. alex

    this isnt anything new people. there are youtube posts of this from 2006.

    October 17, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  25. where the hell is my post

    I HATE U

    October 17, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  26. CK in SD

    sounds more like predator invisibility then harry potter

    October 17, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  27. LiqMat


    October 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • GnatB

      Not even close to the same tech, though it's about as lame as this is. Using a camera and a projector to project the image of what's behind the "cloak" onto the "highly reflective fabric" is *almost* as lame as creating a mirage affect to make the "cloak" act like a mirror so you see what's to the side of the cloak.

      October 18, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  28. Storm

    The govt. will most definitely abuse this. Great more corruption.

    October 17, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  29. expert

    my secret is out, damn

    October 17, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  30. Kevin

    Strikes me more like the very beginnings of cloaking technology first envisioned by Star Trek in the 60's (well, at least the first place I saw it in Sci Fi)

    October 17, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  31. tkessler45

    They wrapped him in a green suit, and then added in the background in post-processing like they do for every film out there.

    October 17, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  32. someone

    High level technology can look like magic, while high end magic resembles technology. This concept has been around for ages. When all the 'magic' users in history died out, it's because no one living understood the technology that was used to create the effect. Most of the high levels of technology were just floating around for a while among descendants of the civilizations that were destroyed before 10,000 BC. The missing time before that period and a further date back holds times of lost history that explains why history books say people went from small hunting and gathering tribes to vast civilizations virtually over night. A pity that is was such an isolated society, otherwise we might be further along today.

    October 17, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Thayer

      I think you're right on the money. Nice to see someone who shares my "out there" theories of the world and our history.

      October 17, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
      • someone

        My thoughts on it get pretty wild, but there are many holes in history that don't explain how some things came about. Especially when they find ancient artifacts that were made with complex gear systems that metallurgy techniques didn't seem to support at the time.

        October 17, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
      • bryan


        You've peaked my interest. Do you have any examples of advanced metalurgy you are referring to? I'm asking because this greatly interests me, not to be sarcastic. Thanks.

        October 17, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  33. GnatB

    So... it's... uhm.. a mirror?

    Congrats. Somebody quick call the magicians union. University of Texas is on to them and their smoke and mirrors...

    October 17, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  34. Ohnohearwego

    The evil villian side of me is coming out.......I can see people robbing the banks with catching that cheating spouse in the act.....or halloween will be extreme fun with many choices 🙂

    October 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  35. MedicMax

    It's just like the Elites in Halo.

    October 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  36. Yakobi.

    Apply it to our submarines.

    October 17, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • John Smith

      good thing every other country in the world doesnt have access to thermal imaging, otherwise that would be pretty silly

      October 17, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
      • WittyUserName

        Yup, since all the submarines in the world have thermal imaging when they're underwater.

        You're right, preeeettty silly.

        October 17, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
      • Wawa

        To expect a President just enrtnieg the second year of his term to produce instant results in crucial areas is neither pragmatic nor fair. Statesmanship is not a game played for gallery applause. For White House to give credibility to results of such polls would be unwise.Obama should focus on priorities as spelt out by his conscience. His initiatives ought to spring from the depth of his convictions because those were what he was voted for to power.An ordinary painting becomes a masterpiece only after final finishing touches by a master. Let Obama not be deterred from his path by criticism or praise. For posterity's verdict on his performance would be based on a larger canvas.

        September 12, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  37. erich2112x

    You gotta' be kidding.

    October 17, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  38. mommajam

    Very cool!! Let's hope the evil-doers don't get hold of this!!

    October 17, 2011 at 7:59 pm |