Why 'event cloaks' could be the key to the ultimate bank heist

June 30, 2011

In this month's special issue of Physics World, which examines the science and applications of invisibility, Martin McCall and Paul Kinsler of Imperial College London describe a new type of invisibility cloak that does not just hide objects - but events.

Using the ultimate bank heist as an example, McCall and Kinsler explain how a thief could, in principle, use an "event cloak" to steal money from a safe, without even the CCTV surveillance cameras being aware.

The burglar would somehow need to split all the light approaching the safe into two parts: "before" and "after", with the "before" part sped up and the "after" part slowed down.

This would create a brief period of darkness during which the burglar could enter the scene and steal the money, being careful to close the safe door before they leave.

With the safe-cracker gone, the process of speeding up and slowing down the light would then be reversed, leading to an apparently untouched scene once again.

Robbing a bank is, of course, only an example to illustrate the principle of what an event cloak could do. As McCall and Kinsler explain, a more likely application of a full-size event cloak would be to control the flow of signals in an optical routing system, where one may need to process simultaneous uninterrupted signals at the same time.

For these aspirations to become a reality, suitable materials need to be developed that can manipulate the light to speed it up or slow it down. The consensus seems to be that a set of parallel, artificially structured "metamaterial" layers would be needed, each containing an array of tiny metallic elements that can be controlled to dynamically adjust the speed of light passing through.

If a high-performance, macroscopic-size, fully functional space-time cloak could be developed, one potential "party trick" could be a Star Trek-type transporter, in which a person could appear to instantly relocate from one point to another.

Although no-one has yet tried to build a space-time cloak in the lab, McCall and Kinsler argue that "there is no obvious reason why such a cloak could not be achieved quite soon, perhaps even within a few years".

Also in this month's special issue on invisibility.
Please mention Physics World as the source of these items and, if publishing online, please include a hyperlink to: http://www.physicsworld.com

Notes for editors:

1. Physics World is the international monthly magazine published by the Institute of Physics. For further information or details of its editorial programme, please contact the editor, Dr Matin Durrani, on tel +44 (0)117 930 1002. The magazine's website physicsworld.com is updated regularly and contains physics news, views and resources. Visit http://www.physicsworld.com.

2. For copies of Physics World and copies of the articles reviewed here contact Michael Bishop, IOP press assistant, tel +44 (0)117 930 1032, e-mail michael.bishop@iop.org.

3. 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 policymakers 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 www.iop.org.

IOP Publishing

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