October 12, 2007

Applying metamaterial invisibility for electromagnetic wormholes

Allan Greenleaf, professor of mathematics at the University of Rochester, and his coauthors lay out the possibility of building a sort of invisible tunnel between two points in space.

invisible tunnel, electromagnetic wormhole
Invisible tunnel

Current technology can create objects invisible only to microwave radiation, but the mathematical theory allows for the wormhole effect for electromagnetic waves of all frequencies. With this in mind, Greenleaf and his coauthors propose several possible applications. Endoscopic surgeries where the surgeon is guided by MRI imaging are problematical because the intense magnetic fields generated by the MRI scanner affect the surgeon's tools, and the tools can distort the MRI images. Greenleaf says, however, that passing the tools through an EM wormhole could effectively hide them from the fields, allowing only their tips to be "visible" at work.

Greenleaf and his coauthors speculated on one use of the electromagnetic wormhole that sounds like something out of science fiction. If the metamaterials making up the tube were able to bend all wavelengths of visible light, they could be used to make a 3D television display. Imagine thousands of thin wormholes sticking up out of a box like a tuft of long grass in a vase. The wormholes themselves would be invisible, but their ends could transmit light carried up from below. It would be as if thousands of pixels were simply floating in the air.

But that idea, Greenleaf concedes, is a very long way off. Even though the mathematics now says that it's possible, it's up to engineers to apply these results to create a working prototype.

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