Father of invisibility theory pushes limits of science
Gunther Uhlmann, creator of the theory of invisibility, says the concept has escaped from the realm of science fiction and "is already a reality".
Santiago: Gunther Uhlmann, creator of the theory of invisibility, says the concept has escaped from the realm of science fiction and "is already a reality".
He predicting that his idea will lead to the development of seismic inhibition shields to protect cities from earthquakes, reported Efe news agency.
"Science is much closer to magic than what we imagine," the MIT-trained Chilean mathematician said.
Uhlmann, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle and 2011 recipient of the American Mathematical Society's prestigious Bocher Prize, published in 2003 a revolutionary paper laying the theoretical basis for current research into invisibility.
"The technique consists in making an invisibility cloak, a Harry Potter, that has light-deflecting properties so that whatever is inside becomes invisible to the human eye," Uhlmann said.
This requires the creation of what the mathematician calls "a white hole".
The phenomenon of refraction was key to the research carried out by Uhlmann's team, who determined the conditions necessary to generate a refraction index sufficient to make an object invisible.
The Chilean has formulated in detail the properties that a hypothetical material would need to have to be invisible.
Although scientists have invented "meta-materials" that make it possible to conceal objects on a small scale, "it is still difficult to predict when one will be able to buy an invisibility cloak," Uhlmann said.
"It's quite difficult to forecast what will happen in the future, but I think that different applications that we cannot even imagine will be developed," he said.
"Many things have been discovered for a determined purpose, but have had other functions that had not been thought of previously."
One potential use of invisibility that Uhlmann theorised some time ago is to create a seismic inhibition shields, composed of materials capable of deflecting seismic waves away from a building.
Despite his prominence within the international scientific community, Uhlmann's opposition to the idea of patenting knowledge has contributed to minimising his public profile.
An unflinching defender of free and open access to science, Uhlmann has never sought to patent his discoveries about invisibility.