A flexible metamaterial has been developed that has the property to manipulate light in such a way that it could begin the path in enabling objects to become invisible. Perhaps even helping in the manufacture of an invisibility cloak.
Metamaterials are man-made materials, with structures that can manipulate and bend light. If said light is channelled in a certain way, then the outcome could be to render visible objects invisible.
An analogy could be the way a car's aerodynamics deflects air flow around the vehicle, as opposed to the air bouncing back off the car; the light being the air flow, and the car the object you want to render invisible. If the light can be made to flow around the object, rather than bounce off it, in effect we wouldn't be able to see it.
Although these materials have been produced before, they've only been able to work for light of a type that we can't see, or on flat, hard surfaces which would make real-world use impractical.
The problem, is that lightwaves, until now, have only been able to be bent around objects the size of their own wavelength. As the wavelength of light is directly linked to its colour (infra-red/ultra violet) and visible light has a relatively short wavelength, this means if the metamaterial is to bend light we can see, the structure has to be tiny.
And we're talking teeny-weeny here, nanostructures that are incredibly hard to manufacture.
However, researchers at the University of St Andrews have managed to produce a material called Meta-flex that could go some way to producing a flexible invisibility cloak.
As Dr Andrea Di Falco, St Andrews University said:
"All the typical results have been reached in flat and rigid surfaces because this is the legacy of the procedures used to create nanostructures".
"Typically what you do is stack several layers of fishnet structures and this all together will give you a metamaterial. What I've done here is fabricate a single layer - I lift it off so that at the end I am left with a self-standing membrane - and show that it has the properties required to create a 3D flexible metamaterial".
The new Meta-flex material could be applied to a variety of uses, including the manufacture of smart fabrics and contact lenses for visual prostheses.
Failing that, you could always use it to grab handfuls of Black Jacks from the penny sweets counter, next time you're in the newsagents.