Feeds

'Spacetime cloak' could act as 'Star Trek transporter'

Hey boffins: You do the science, we write the headlines, OK?

New hybrid storage solutions

Top boffins at Imperial College in London, an institution famed for its pioneering research into invisible sheds, have outdone themselves this time. They say they have applied the undetectable garden sanctum theory of metamaterials to produce a still cunninger concept - a type of "space-time cloak" which would produce the "illusion of a Star Trek transporter".

Professor Martin McCall, leading the team of spacetime-furtlers, explains how the new idea works.

"Light normally slows down as it enters a material, but it is theoretically possible to manipulate the light rays so that some parts speed up and others slow down," says the prof.

This would mean that downstream of the metamaterial there would be an interruption in beams of photons travelling through space - creating a "corridor" in which "energy, information or matter can be transported undetected".

"If you had someone moving along the corridor, it would appear to a distant observer as if they had relocated instantaneously, creating the illusion of a Star-Trek transporter," says McCall. "So, theoretically, this person might be able to do something and you wouldn't notice!"

We here on the Reg boffinry hyperbole desk call foul on this, frankly. No one likes to baselessly claim Star Trek effects for new scientific breakthroughs more than us, but this is into the realm of naughtiness.

A Star Trek transporter, as any fule kno, is not employed for the purpose of allowing people or stuff to zip undetected across someone's line of vision. Rather it moves people between a starship in orbit and planetary surfaces, miraculously imparting or removing large velocities in the process so that they aren't smeared all over the landscape or transporter bay on arrival*.

Then, again, this is not a cloak. As Professor John Pendry (also of Imperial, and a major metamaterials boffin) has excellently commented regarding visible-light metamaterials:

"This isn't anything that flaps around in the breeze; it's more like a shed."

Or in this case a highly specialised piece of seemingly transparent garden siding, behind which someone with impeccable timing and able to run at a significant fraction of the speed of light might in implausible circumstances be able to move along without you noticing - seeming to vanish and then reappear at the other end.

But to be fair the boffins are only playing we media scumbags at our own game with all the Star Trek and invisibility cloak gumble. In fact the new science is for real, and could well have serious application in the near future.

In particular you might be able to do some interesting things with optical signals using metamaterial-based processors, for which McCall and his team already have a proof-of-concept design.

According to a statement from Imperial:

A given data channel could for example be interrupted to perform a priority calculation on a parallel channel during the cloak operation. Afterwards, it would appear to external parts of the circuit as though the original channel had processed information continuously, so as to achieve 'interrupt-without-interrupt'.
Animation illustrating 'spacetime cloak' concept. Credit: Imperial College

Piercing the spacetime cloak through the magic of animation.

"Imagine computer data moving down a channel to be like a highway full of cars," says Alberto Favaro, one of the boffins who worked on the plan (see the animation). "You want to have a pedestrian crossing without interrupting the traffic, so you slow down the cars that haven't reached the crossing, while the cars that are at or beyond the crossing get sped up, which creates a gap in the middle for the pedestrian to cross. Meanwhile an observer down the road would only see a steady stream of traffic."

The paper describing the work, A spacetime cloak, or a history editor, is published in the Journal of Optics. It can be read here (free signup for the next 30 days, thereafter subscription required). ®

Bootnote

*And incidentally making the transitions between ship interiors and planet scenes extremely cheap to stage. A thought which never crossed Gene Roddenberry's mind, of course.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
'Duck face' selfie in SPAAAACE: Rosetta's snap with bird comet
Probe prepares to make first landing on fast-moving rock
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.