Materials Science Update – Research into Invisibility Cloak Yielding Heat Shield Technology Results

As much as the military and Harry Potter have sought a cloak of invisibility, the science that studies light wave deflection is looking at thermal wave invisibility for creating heat shields. French researchers are intending to build materials that shield electronics to keep them cool or do the reverse, provide concentrated heat to generate power from a light source — the Sun.

Sebastien Guenneau heads up a research team at the University of Aix-Marseille and France’s Centre National de la Reserche Scientifique (CNRS). The team intends to develop prototype thermal cloaks for microelectronics that diffuse heat around a protected area. They have published their findings in Optics Express, in an article entitled, Transformation Thermodynamics: Cloaking and Concentrating Heat Flux. This type of heat shield would have many applications within microelectronics and space science. The reverse, focusing heat on a small volume would be used for enhancing the power and heat production for the solar energy industry.

If a thermal invisibility cloak can be developed then this illustration shows how it would work. The object in the centre is a schematic for a micro-electronic device. The source of heat coming from the left side is diffused around the object rendering it "invisible" to the heat. Source: Institut Fresnel, CNRS/AMU

Current thermal protection technologies include the reinforced carbon panels, ceramic tiles and resins used by the Space Shuttle,  the plastic foams we see in the insulation used in commercial products like coolers, the aerogels that NASA has used in Martian rovers. How does “thermal invisibility” compare?

Whereas the materials described above absorb and diffuse the heat from its source, this new technology deflects it around the object rendering it invisible to the heat source. The French research team is working with PVC-type polymers, silver and gold with a prototype near completion.

Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery.