I'm here at TED2013 in Long Beach, jacked up on amazing coffee and mind-blowing ideas from today's 4-minute TED fellow talks (the longer 18-minute talks start tomorrow).
I was only part-way through the first day when I had to take a moment to track down Baile Zhang, an assistant professor of physics at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, who had demonstrated his "invisibility cloak." Now I'll admit, when I first heard of Zhang's invention, I pictured – against common sense – an invisibility cloak similar to the one Professor Dumbledore gave to Harry Potter. So I was a little surprised when the cloak looked more like a tiny clear plastic box just a few inches high, reminding me of a magic trick prop my 9-year-old daughter might have. Nevertheless, the cloak's ability to conceal an object so that both the cloak and the object become invisible was astonishing. Zhang placed the cloak over a bright pink Post-it note and voila! Nothing! The pink paper disappeared. And the cloak itself wasn't really visible in the first place.
I found 31-year-old Zhang in the auditorium, watching other TED Fellows talk. He told me the cloak is made out of two pieces of calcite, or optical crystals – found in nature – that are cemented together. The calcite bends light and suppresses shadows, creating the effect of, well, nothingness. When I asked him what his big plans were with this reality-bending invention, he said it had no purpose. He just created it for fun. He does, however, plan to make it bigger. How big? "As large as possible." The idea came to him in 2010, and today was the first time he's shown it to a live audience.
Above: a video of the invisibility cloak taken before today. I have to say, today's demonstration was even more spectacular, but this is still pretty amazing.