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Researchers at Duke Are Perfecting an Invisibility Cloak

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Duke University researchers perfect the illusion of invisibility using a new light-bending method.

Over the past few years, the science world has produced no shortage of invisibility cloaks. But unlike the magical, fictional kind donned by Harry Potter and Co., these shimmery offerings were less than perfect: While most could bend light around an object, they all reflected some of what's called incident light, compromising the illusion's success. Now for the first time, researchers from Duke University have created a "flawless" invisibility cloak capable of disguising tiny objects, in this case a 7.5 by 1 cm cylinder.

Invisibility cloaks typically work by bending electromagnetic waves — like visible light — around a three-dimensional object. Rather than seeing that object, onlookers instead catch a glimpse of what's directly behind it. Scientists are able to achieve this illusion using something called metamaterials, or man-made objects that never occur in nature but can bend electromagnetic waves in all sorts of weird ways.

However, the degree to which these metamaterials can bend something like light is limited. Sebastian Anthony at ExtremeTech explains:

"Metamaterials get you most of the way, but they still need to be arranged in such a way that the illusion is perfect. To get around a 3D object, you have to turn a corner at some point — and previous cloaks have struggled to fashion metamaterials that bend waves around corners without causing reflections, which ruin the illusion."

In this case, Duke University researchers came up with a so-called "perfect arrangement": Position the metamaterials in a diamond pattern that eliminates reflective light entirely. In this experiment, they were able to hide the miniature cylinder completely from a different kind of electromagnetic wave, but one whose properties still translate, at least in theory, to visible light — microwaves.

The diamond arrangement has its limitations, however: It only works in one direction. "It's like the card people in Alice in Wonderland," Prof. David Smith, a Duke researcher who worked on the project, tells BBC News. "If they turn on their sides you can't see them but they're obviously visible if you look from the other direction."

But the design principle is a big step forward in the quest to prove that total invisibility is indeed possible. In the near future researchers hope to apply their findings to an omnidirectional cloak that can hide an object no matter where an observer is situated.

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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
Fisherman Catches Rare Blue Lobster, Donates It to Science
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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Live lobsters caught off the New England coast are typically brown, olive-green, or gray—which is why one New Hampshire fisherman was stunned when he snagged a blue one in mid-July.

As The Independent reports, Greg Ward, from Rye, New Hampshire, discovered the unusual lobster while examining his catch near the New Hampshire-Maine border. Ward initially thought the pale crustacean was an albino lobster, which some experts estimate to be a one-in-100-million discovery. However, a closer inspection revealed that the lobster's hard shell was blue and cream.

"This one was not all the way white and not all the way blue," Ward told The Portsmouth Herald. "I've never seen anything like it."

While not as rare as an albino lobster, blue lobsters are still a famously elusive catch: It's said that the odds of their occurrence are an estimated one in two million, although nobody knows the exact numbers.

Instead of eating the blue lobster, Ward decided to donate it to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. There, it will be studied and displayed in a lobster tank with other unusually colored critters, including a second blue lobster, a bright orange lobster, and a calico-spotted lobster.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy Murdoch University
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Animals
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
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Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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