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Are Science Fiction Writers Prophets Or Idea Generators?
 
By James Donahue
 

When French author Jules Verne wrote about men traveling to the moon in 1866, few would have dreamed that his story would become reality only 100 years later.

 

I recall when Cartoonist Chester Gould gave his popular detective character Dick Tracy a two-way wrist radio communication device. That was back in the late 1940 and early 1950s, before the walkman, the cellular telephone or portable computer that fits in the pocket was ever thought possible.

 

Now, obviously influenced by the popular television Star Trek series, scientists are working on such concepts as teleportation of goods and people, and cloaking devices for hiding ships and aircraft from the view of the enemy.

 

While teleportation is calculated to be possible, the quantum physicists say there is one major problem. They conceive of the movement of objects through space as a scan of the original, and then manufacturing a perfect replica of it at the other end of the spectrum. And that seems to mean that the original must be destroyed to make it occur. Thus the teleportation of living humans and creatures is not something anybody wishes to try.

 

Now two UK scientists have shown that, at least mathematically, the concept of building a cloaking device also is possible. In a published paper, Nicolae Nicorovici and Graeme Milton propose that placing certain objects close to a material called a superlens will make them appear to vanish.

 

The effect is called “anomalous localized resonance.” The very name suggests the use of something somewhat occult and utilizing sound frequencies. But Nicorovici and Milton say this resonance would utilize light waves instead of sound waves.

 

The idea is to put up a screen of material that would become a superlens that causes light to behave in an unusual way, thus scattering light at frequencies that induce a different resonance, thus hiding the object located behind it. The concept sounds relatively simple, but it is not.

 

The two scientists say the concept is at such a primitive stage they are talking only of being able to cloak dust particles, and certainly not space ships.

 

And there is another problem. The cloaking effect appears to work only with certain frequencies of light. Some objects placed behind the cloak might still be partially visible.

 

Either science must device a better lens, or work out these bugs with the superlens they now have before Captain James T. Kirk and his Enterprise team can expect to hide the Spaceship Enterprise from the evil Romulans and Klingons.