Sir John Pendry, pioneer of the 'invisibility cloak', wins top Institute of Physics honour

The physicist first published the idea for an "invisibility cloak" in 2006

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The Independent Online

A British physicist who has pioneered the development of a new class of metamaterials and proposed the idea of an "invisibility cloak" has won the top honour at the UK's Institute of Physics (IoP) awards.

Professor Sir John Pendry, who first published the idea for an "invisibility cloak" in 2006, was honoured for his work on metamaterials and his "seminal contributions to surface science, disordered systems and photonics".

In a citation for the award the IoP commended Sir John Pendry's work on low energy diffraction and the theory of surfaces but said that it was his work on a "cloak of invisibility" that had "the greatest impact scientifically and certainly on the public imagination".

It goes on to state that the new class of materials "expand massively the material parameters available throughout the electromagnetic spectrum", and notes that the invention of the cloak has attracted worldwide public interest.

The properties of metamaterials, which are not defined by their chemical constitution but rather by their internal structure on the smallest scale, allow them to be used to guide light around objects - thus rendering them invisible to the eye.

The metamaterials can be designed specifically to induce a change in the direction of electromagnetic waves by altering the nano-scale structure of the metamaterial rather than its chemistry. Covering an object in such a material means light waves flow around the object.

Professor Pendry told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “The point of the cloak was a grand challenge to tell the world 'if we can do that, we can do anything.'

“The whole point of the exercise is we have exquisite control over light and radiation generally.”

Researchers in Britain and the US have long been working on creating a so-called cloaking device.

The concept, a long-time staple of science fiction films, and more recently the Harry Potter series, is thought to have a wide number of applications - and could be used in military stealth technology.

Professor Pendry explained in 2006: "What you're trying to do is guide light around an object, but the art is to bend it such that it leaves the object in precisely the same way that it initially hits it.

"You have the illusion that there is nothing there."

Prof Sir Peter Knight, president of the IoP, told BBC News: "My personal view is that what John Pendry has done with his work on metamaterials, on perfect lensing, on cloaking - that work is the most exciting that I've seen in optics in a generation."