How to Become Invisible

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Whether you're looking to start your own religion, swallow a sword, quit smoking, find Atlantis, buy the Moon, sink a battleship, perform your own surgeries, or become a ninja, our new book Be Amazing covers all the essential life skills! This week, we'll be excerpting a few lessons from the book.

If you have several billion dollars and a defense department contract:

You may be able to get invisible, thanks to a new technology based off the Fantastic Four. According to comic-book mythology, the Invisible Woman pulls off her shtick by bending light waves around her body with a force field—so instead of seeing a blond chick in spandex, supervillans see whatever happens to be behind her. So far, this skill is strictly for fictional hotties, but researchers at St. Andrews University in Scotland think that, in the near future, those of us not genetically altered by radioactive rays from space may be able to do something similar.

The concept works like this: We see objects because they reflect light back to our eyes. So if an object were able to curve light around itself like water flowing around a river stone, it would be effectively invisible. We'd see all the things around and behind it that reflected the light instead. To be invisible, a person or object would have to be concealed behind a shield made of metamaterials, highly engineered man-made solids that can bend waves of energy. So far, the metamaterials are still theoretical, but scientists agree that they're coming soon. Both the researchers at St. Andrews and a different group at the Pentagon have predicted that successful metamaterials capable of hiding objects from radar or electromagnetic waves (though, sadly, not from the human eye) could debut as early as 2009.

If you have a couple of million and airfare to Japan:

You can be transparent right now, though people may accuse you of cheating. Tachi Laboratories at the University of Tokyo has developed a sort of virtual invisibility cloak made of a luminescent material, similar to a movie screen or stop sign paint. Using a digital camera linked to a powerful computer, researchers can project live images and video from behind the cloak onto its front, making it blend in, chameleon-style, with the background. The effect isn't all that realistic; you won't be using this cloak to walk into a bank and rob it undetected. However, the technology promises to be very useful to surgeons, who could use it to "see" through their own hands for a better view of their patient's innards.

If you're on a budget:

You can't be invisible, but your Pyrex® glassware can. Turns out, Pyrex and Wesson oil reflect light at almost the exact same angle—so if you immerse a rod of Pyrex in a jar of cooking oil, the submerged glass will appear to vanish.

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March 9, 2009 - 8:10am
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