Invisibility has always been a popular idea. From the cloak that Harry Potter wears to long forgotten legends from eons ago. However in 2008 the idea of invisibility has become closer to reality with the scientific discoveries made this year. The basic idea of invisibility has to do with deflecting the waves of light.
The advances in invisibility technology have come from the new class of materials called metamaterials. Metamaterials are engineered materials that consist of electronic elements, capacitors and inductors, on a nano scale. The tiny scale of these materials is what allows them to interact with rays of light. There can be used to make many objects that include lenses, powerful microscopes and the possibility of making cloaking objects or even making objects invisible. These materials can make these things more useful by making objects less expensive. What metamaterials can do to light is to bend it in the opposite direction. Compared to normal materials, such as water, this is quite a huge advance. Water only bends light rays slightly.
Researchers have so far been able to bend light rays enough to make objects invisible to microwave. However it is difficult to make the materials to bend all the wavelengths of visible light. There are however many different research labs working with this new technology. Today the University of Pennsylvania is working on an invisibility shield that is called a "plasmonic cover". This shield operates by not allowing the object being shielded to refract light, which scatters it and makes it visible. This shield also suffers from the problem that all invisibility technology suffers from in that it is difficult to make invisible to all wavelengths of light. It would also have to be very specifically suited to each object that is being shielded.
There are also other applications, some more immediate than others. This new technology allows far greater control over how lights bends, which could allow people to see better as well as to communicate better. Using the metamaterials scientists will be able to see extremely tiny objects with much greater detail. This could mean seeing something as small as a living cell in its natural environment.
The actually ability to make things invisible to the human eye may be ten years away, but in the meantime this advance has far reaching implications for many areas of science. This advance from the year 2008 is the best discovery the year has offered.