What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Small-Scale Invisibility Cloaks

March 24, 2010, 10:45 PM

For generations, the topic of invisibility has been of great interest. Although it was once dismissed as science fiction, it has now become reality on a small scale. Physics textbooks around the world must be rewritten and scientists must admit that they were wrong.

For the first time, scientists in Germany announced that they have been able to create a cloaking device that can render a three-dimensional object invisible (at near optical frequencies). Previously in 2006, scientists at Duke University created a substance called metamaterials which could render an object invisible by absorbing all the light that hits it, but only in two-dimensions and only at microwave frequencies.

This time, scientists were able to make a cloaking device that could make a tiny three-dimensional object disappear under infrared light, which is almost in the visible range. Infrared by definition has a longer wavelength at a lower frequency than that of visible light. These scientists in fact made a small invisibility carpet, and if you place an object under this carpet (made of gold), then the bump made by this carpet disappears. Light hits the bump, which modifies the path of the beam so that the beam bounces off just as if the bump weren't even there. This process can be scaled up and in principle you could put one of these carpets over a person, a car, or even a house and make it disappear. This technology of course raises many moral concerns, as discussed in Plato's Republic, which argues that a person with such a power (a ring that makes you invisible) would use it for unjust means if given the opportunity.

There are many hurdles to overcome before we have something similar to and as technologically advanced as Harry Potter's cloak.

a) First, scientists have to make a cloak that works in the visible range, which might come very soon.

b) The object under the bump is very tiny (a few microns wide), smaller than a human hair, so small it cannot be seen with the naked eye. But, in principle, in the future it can be scaled up to cover a person or any object for that matter. The process of building such a cloak would be very expensive and time-consuming, since it's done via nanotechnology.

c) From a distance, the carpet/cloak looks like a mirror. The bump in this carpet/mirror disappears if we use metamaterials. Scientists have to demonstrate this effect without the object looking like a mirror, which may take a bit of time. 

This type of research in general is both fast-paced and competitive, and other groups working on invisibility include both UC Berkeley and Cornell. An invisibility cloak (or carpet) similar to the one worn by Harry Potter is certainly a distinct possibility but will take many years of hard work to perfect. Still, it may be here sooner than you think, and as I've stated before, "The more we know, the faster we can know more."


Small-Scale Invisibility Cl...

Newsletter: Share: