A European Commission-backed research project has succeeded in manipulating light using nanotechnology in a way that could theoretically create 3D Harry Potter-style 'invisibility cloaks'.
The project is part of the EC's efforts to boost hi-tech research and development in emerging technologies under the ambitious Digital Agenda for Europe.
Research work on the Phome project, which started in April 2008 and will end next year, focuses on the creation of 'photonic metamaterials' which are able to influence the behaviour of light particles, according to the EC.
The invisibility cloak is created from minuscule rods, each measuring just a few hundred nanometres across. These rods are then carefully arranged in a particular formation so that they are able to bend light waves.
By changing the speed and direction in which light travels, the scientists can guide light waves around a micrometre-sized bump in such a way as to render it invisible in three dimensions, and at wavelengths of light close to those visible to humans, said the EC. Hitherto, such an effect has only been possible in 2D.
Next year the project will aim to reproduce the effect at wavelengths visible to the human eye.
"I am amazed by the ingenuity of European researchers," said Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda.
"This project has achieved in real life what we knew only from special effects in the cinema. Such cutting edge research is crucial to laying the foundations for new technologies essential for Europe's competitiveness."
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