Public Release:  Light speed hurdle to invisibility cloak overcome by undergraduate

Institute of Physics

An undergraduate student has overcome a major hurdle in the development of invisibility cloaks by adding an optical device into their design that not only remains invisible itself, but also has the ability to slow down light.

The optical device, known as an 'invisible sphere', would slow down all of the light that approaches a potential cloak, meaning that the light rays would not need to be accelerated around the cloaked objects at great speeds ― a requirement that has limited invisibility cloaks to work only in a specified region of the visible spectrum.

This new research, published today, Tuesday 9 August, in the Institute of Physics and German Physical Society's New Journal of Physics, could open up the possibility for a potential invisibility cloak wearer to move around amongst ever-changing backgrounds of a variety of colours.

Under the guidance of Professor Ulf Leonhardt, Janos Perczel, originating from Hungary and reading Logic, Philosophy of Science and Physics at the University of St Andrews, acknowledged the huge potential of the invisible sphere and was able to fine-tune it so that it was a suitable background for cloaking.

The usual approach to designing an invisibility cloak works on the basis of bending light ― using highly specific materials ― around an object that you wish to conceal, thereby preventing the light from hitting the object and revealing its presence to the eye of the observer.

When the light is bent, it engulfs the object, much like water covering a rock sitting in a river bed, and carries on its path making it seem as if nothing is there.

Light, however, can only be accelerated to a speed faster than it would travel in space under certain conditions, and this restricts invisibility cloaks to work in a limited part of the spectrum ― essentially just one colour.

This would be ideal if somebody was planning to stand still in camouflage; however, the moment that they start to move the scenery will begin to distort, revealing the person under the cloak.

By slowing all of the light down with an invisible sphere, it does not need to be accelerated to such high speeds and can therefore work in all parts of the spectrum.

Perczel said, "I started to work on the problem of superluminal propagation as Professor Leonhardt's summer student with an EPSRC grant. Once the idea was present, I worked for over eight months to overcome the technical barriers and to make the proposal practicable."

An Institute of Physics spokesperson said, "This new development opens up further possibilities for the design of a practical invisibility cloak ― overcoming the problem of light speed that other advances have struggled to address and, very impressively, this significant advance was achieved by an undergraduate student."


From Tuesday 9 August, the full journal paper can be downloaded from

Notes to Editors


For further information, a full draft of the journal paper or contact with one of the researchers, contact IOP Publishing Press Assistant, Michael Bishop:
Tel: 0117 930 1032

Invisibility cloaking without superluminal propagation

2. The published version of the paper "Invisibility cloaking without superluminal propagation" Perczel et al 2011 New J. Phys. 13 083007 will be freely available online from 9 August 2011. It will be available at

New Journal of Physics

3. New Journal of Physics publishes across the whole of physics, encompassing pure, applied, theoretical and experimental research, as well as interdisciplinary topics where physics forms the central theme. All content is permanently free to read and the journal is funded by an article publication charge.

IOP Publishing

4. IOP Publishing provides publications through which leading-edge scientific research is distributed worldwide. IOP Publishing is central to the Institute of Physics (IOP), a not-for-profit society. Any financial surplus earned by IOP Publishing goes to support science through the activities of IOP. Beyond our traditional journals programme, we make high-value scientific information easily accessible through an ever-evolving portfolio of community websites, magazines, conference proceedings and a multitude of electronic services. Focused on making the most of new technologies, we're continually improving our electronic interfaces to make it easier for researchers to find exactly what they need, when they need it, in the format that suits them best. Go to

The Institute of Physics

5. The Institute of Physics is a leading scientific society promoting physics and bringing physicists together for the benefit of all.

It has a worldwide membership of around 40 000 comprising physicists from all sectors, as well as those with an interest in physics. It works to advance physics research, application and education; and engages with policy makers and the public to develop awareness and understanding of physics. Its publishing company, IOP Publishing, is a world leader in professional scientific communications. Go to

The German Physical Society

6. The German Physical Society (DPG) with a tradition extending back to 1845 is the largest physical society in the world with more than 59,000 members. The DPG sees itself as the forum and mouthpiece for physics and is a non-profit organisation that does not pursue financial interests. It supports the sharing of ideas and thoughts within the scientific community, fosters physics teaching and would also like to open a window to physics for all those with a healthy curiosity.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.