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Cloaking Device Could Protect Buildings from Disasters

Avid fans of the television series Star Trek are familiar with the term: cloaking device. In a turn proving the fact that truth is stranger than fiction, physicists from the University of St. Andrews In Kentucky have created a cloaking device that is literally capable of hiding 3D objects. In their paper published in the New Journal of Physics, the St. Andrew’s team explains that the new device hides microscopic objects from view as seen from any angle.

In the same way that cloaking devices make objects appear invisible by deflecting light around them, pressurized rubber could be used to “hide” structures from shock waves produced by earthquakes, sending them around the structure rather than through it. This is good news for building owners and property managers since cloaking could potentially defend structures against earthquakes and other natural disasters.

The whole idea of cloaking works because light is the means by which we see everything around us. For example, consider how light strikes a computer keyboard and then bounces back through the user’s pupils into the back of his or her eyes, enabling writers to see what they are typing. If something were to be placed under a keyboard that caused the light behind it to bend before it hit the keyboard, and then caused it to bend back on the other side before it came to our eyes, we’d see nothing but the table the keyboard is sitting on.

If cloaking technology had been available last year, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant might have been able to escape damage from the earthquake and associated tsunami. According to mathematicians from the University of Manchester, invisibility cloaks could be used to protect key structures such as nuclear power plants, government facilities and electric pylons from earthquakes and terrorist attacks.

“Significant progress has been made, both theoretically and practically in the area of cloaking. We showed theoretically that stressing a naturally available material—rubber—leads to a cloaking effect from a specific type of elastic wave,” wrote Dr. William Parnell in The Proceedings of the Royal Society. “Our team is now working hard on more general theories and to understand how this theory can be realized in practice. If the theory can be scaled up to larger objects then it could be used to create cloaks to protect buildings and structures, or perhaps more realistically to protect very important specific parts of those structures.”

The new cloaking device won’t be on the market in the immediate future since the experiment used elements too small to be seen by the human eye. After more research is done, it will eventually be sized up and expanded to cloak everyday objects such as buildings.

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