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Metamaterials, a substance that bends light so that it renders anything it covers invisible to the naked eye, has been a laboratory curiosity for years,. It has elicited the idea of creating practical “invisibility cloaks” such as was depicted in the Harry Potter films. But the difficulty of manufacturing metamaterials in quantity has proven to be a problem – until now.
Researchers at the University of Central Florida have managed to create metamaterials using a 3d printing technique. The printer creates four by four inch squares of the material which are then stitched together in large swaths.
While metamaterials have a large number of applications thanks to their ability to bend and manipulate light, the military is most interested in its potential to make a number of weapons platforms, especially jet fighters, invisible. That is why the research is funded by the United States Navy and the researchers are seeking further funding from Lockheed Martin.
Also, while current metamaterials are only capable of bending blue and red light, future innovations will allow for the manipulation of other wavelengths, including infrared, rendering a jet fighter invisible to enemy sensors.
Stealth technology, which builds aircraft of radar absorbing material, has been around for decades. Stealth planes have fought in every one of America’s wars since the 1991 Persian Gulf War. However a material that bends visible light and other wavelengths could render aircraft undetectable to an enemy. What cannot be detected cannot be defended against, giving a substantial advantage to an air force that has aircraft with a layer of these metamaterials.