Jul 15, 2016 | By Alec

The Harry Potter books and movies managed to capture the hearts and minds of a whole generation in a way that few people would’ve thought possible in today’s world. Though packed with fantastical and imaginative props – from flying broomsticks to talking snakes – none were as captivating as Harry’s invisibility cloak. It was very disappointing to realize that something like that will never exist. Or will it? For scientists from the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have just realized a 3D printing breakthrough that might be the first step in the right direction.

But let’s get one thing out of the way: they have not made invisible 3D printed components, and its nothing like James Bond’s invisible Aston Martin (with lots and lots of mini-cameras) either. Instead, they have developed a 3D printable composite material filled with nanoparticles that can make curved surfaces invisible to electromagnetic waves. Not to eyes.

However, before we all look away in disappointment, it will be good to know that this innovation does actually rely on the same principles as a theoretical invisibility cloak. “The design is based upon transformation optics, a concept behind the idea of the invisibility cloak,” says co-author and Professor Yang Hao from QMUL's School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science.

What’s more, it could be very useful for a variety of sectors, from microwaves, optics development, to antennas and every other device that is in any way affected by electromagnetic surface waves. This remarkable achievement will be published in the journal Scientific Reports, in a paper featuring QMUL’s Dr Luigi La Spada as first author. “The study and manipulation of surface waves is the key to develop technological and industrial solutions in the design of real-life platforms, for different application fields,” he said.

Not quite an invisibility cloak yet.

So what have they done? In a nutshell, they have 3D printed a nanocomposite medium on a curved surface, to form a special coating with seven distinct layers (called the graded index nanocomposite). Each of these layers has a very specific electric property, depending on its position. As a result, the curved surface is not registered by electromagnetic waves. While the waves would ordinarily scatter on the surface (signifying its presence), the object is instead hidden from detection. “We demonstrated a practical possibility to use nanocomposites to control surface wave propagation through advanced additive manufacturing. Perhaps most importantly, the approach used can be applied to other physical phenomena that are described by wave equations, such as acoustics,” says Dr. La Spada.

This is not entirely new, as professor Hao revealed. “Previous research has shown this technique working at one frequency. However, we can demonstrate that it works at a greater range of frequencies making it more useful for other engineering applications, such as nano-antennas and the aerospace industry,” the professor explained. It could, the researchers add, have a tremendous industrial impact. But as far as we’re concerned, making an object invisible to one sensor is just the first step in the right direction.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Al Schrader wrote at 7/16/2016 10:04:07 AM:

I invented 5D printing.

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