An international team of mathematicians has managed to devise an amplifier capable of boosting light, sound and other waves while hiding them inside an invisible container.
“You can isolate and magnify what you want to see, and make the rest invisible,” University of Washington professor Gunther Uhlmann explained. “You can amplify the waves tremendously. And although the wave has been magnified a lot, you still cannot see what is happening inside the container.”
As a first application, the researchers propose manipulating matter waves, which can best be described as the mathematical description of particles in quantum mechanics.
Ultimately, however, the team envisions building a quantum microscope capable of capturing quantum waves, the waves of the nanoworld. A quantum microscope could, for example, be used to monitor electronic processes on computer chips.
The authors dubbed their system “Schrödinger’s hat,” referring to the famed Schrödinger’s cat in quantum mechanics. The name is also a nod to the ability to create something from what appears to be nothing.
“In some sense you are doing something magical, because it looks like a particle is being created. It’s like pulling something out of your hat,” Uhlmann noted.
Matter waves inside the hat can also be shrunk, though Uhlmann says that concealing very small objects “is not so interesting.” To be sure, Uhlmann and his team originally wanted to formulate cloaks based on metamaterials which bends waves to obscure objects.
“From the experimental point of view, I think the most exciting thing is how easy it seems to be to build materials for acoustic cloaking… Wavelengths for microwave, sound and quantum matter waves are longer than light or electromagnetic waves, making it easier to build the materials to cloak objects from observation using these phenomena. We hope that it’s feasible, but in science you don’t know until you do it,” he added.