3D-Printed Invisibility Cloak Unleashes Your Inner Harry Potter

For those that may not have devoured the Harry Potter series like my nerdy-self, a quick intro: he has a magical cloak that renders the wearer or wearers (you can fit more than one person under it) completely invisible. As you might imagine, such a garment would be invaluable in the real world, but alas, we’ve yet to unlock the spell that makes it possible. Or have we?

Researchers at Duke University recently sent the internet into chaos with the publication of a paper that claims to detail the process for creating a plastic invisibility cloak using a standard 3D printer. It’s not quite the fantastical vestment described in Harry Potter, but for this nerd, it’s a giant leap in the right direction.

invisibility cloak Duke University

Image via Duke University

It was seven years ago when Duke first began to unlock the nanotechnology mysteries that would allow them to make a physical object appear to disappear. Now, they’ve upped the ante, replicating the “miracle” through an easy and relatively cheap process that involves a 3D printer.

The new and improved “cloak” actually looks more like a flat donut that got attacked by a group of hungry mice, but those apertures aren’t there by accident. “The location, shape, and size of the holes are chosen by algorithms that determine which combination of those metrics will result in a deflection of microwave beams,” explains Extreme Tech. When microwave beams are aimed at any object placed in the center hole, the opening disguise it, making it appear as though the object isn’t there.

“I would argue that essentially anyone who can spend a couple thousand dollars on a non-industry grade 3D printer can literally make a plastic cloak overnight,” said Yaroslav Urzhumov, assistant research professor in electrical and computer engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering and coauthor of the study.

But I wouldn’t whip out your checkbook just yet. Duke’s current design uses only microwaves–invisible light. So for now, it’s just a laboratory trick. However, Urzhumov claims this current iteration of invisibility technology will soon pave the way for optical cloaking — the imagined effect that saves Harry Potter’s life more times than we care to count.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog