“Wonder Woman” is crushing it in theaters right now, but we don’t want to give away any spoilers, so let’s talk about some classic Wonder Woman stuff from her comic book career instead, specifically her invisible jet. Is Wonder Woman’s invisible jet possible right now? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to learn more.
Wonder Woman made her wonderful debut in 1941 thanks to DC comics. A year later the world would be introduced to her own comic and some pretty remarkable accessories. The lasso of truth and the bracelet of submission are a few items that this super hero keeps on her person. The vehicle of choice for long distance travel though is pretty intriguing. A jet plane that can totally disappear. That was dreamt up in 1942. Well, now it’s 2017 so how is that invisible jet coming along? How close are we to having things that can become invisible?
That’s a pretty tall order. After all, how can you take something that is there and make it look like it's not. Leading up to technology like this will take baby steps. So, let’s see where we are in the world of turning physical objects invisible.
Last year Saumsung demoed a TV that disappears, sort of. This TV made quite the splash at a tech fair in Japan when it was demonstrated for the first time in public. Basically this TV is a glass pane that acts like a window to your cabinets. You can open it, close it, and easily see all the items in your cabinet. However, when you turn on the signal this glass pane turns into a high def TV by using projectors and the glass itself. When you turn off the signal it “disappears” and reverts back to being just a clear glass window in your cabinet. Pretty cool stuff, but it’s not quite invisible. The glass pane is always there, and just because you can see through it does not mean it's invisible. The glare from distant lights would be noticeable, but it’s a pretty good first step towards thinking about physical items that disappear. To be truly invisible would mean it could not be detected or touched. For that we’ll have to continue to explore other scientific breakthroughs.
Researchers have recently unveiled a meta-skin that would be invisible to radar. This material is a flexible gel that's covered with little bits of a liquid metal that can absorb radar frequency waves, meaning something wrapped in this meta-skin would be virtually invisible to radar signals. This would mean that it could not be detected if radar were the only means of detection here. Now we’re getting closer to true invisibility. This would mean that the object would not be able to be detected. The initial attempts were tested on an artificial skin in the shape of a glove. Whomever is wearing this glove would be able to prevent the glove (or the hand within the glove) to be detected from radar. This technology has a lot of applications for military use and is still pretty far from being on the market place, but it is a step towards making something that is not detectable. This is more or less like Harry Potter’s cloak, but for radar instead of optical vision.
So, how about regular visibility? Is there anyway to make something disappear using the many incredible breakthroughs in material science? For that answer we'll have to turn to the world of nano-materials! Currently scientists are working on some pretty remarkable materials that are able to cloak objects and make them seemingly disappear in front of our eyes. The only issue is that these attempts all work in very very small settings. Not like a jet, but more like at the microscopic level. Using a series of newly designed nano-materials scientists are able to place this newly designed material in front of something and have this material redirect light in such a way that it would appear as though the hidden object is not there at all. Here’s the tricky part though. As of now this technology only works in very small settings, no where near anything that would be of a purpose to us in our day to day human scale life. Common use of this technology is still very far away and even the research is extremely expensive, but there are people working on this stuff right now.
In the meantime we’ll just rely on our current most advanced way of becoming invisible, wearing camo. We’ve got a long way to go before we can hide a small physical object much less a giant jet. We’ve still got quite a long way to go before we can make big invisible pieces of technology, but at least there's some work being done on this in labs right now. Sadly, no one has even begun the process of making the lasso of truth.