In ancient times, Julius Caesar painted his fleet of reconnaissance boats entirely in a blue-green wax — including the sails, ropes and even the crew — making the vessels virtually invisible against the sea. In a sense, camouflage is the original invisibility cloak, one that animals have evolved to such stunning perfection that they can disappear before our very eyes. It’s a marvelous trick for survival.

But beyond hiding from the view of hungry predators or opposing soldiers, the idea of invisibility has long captured our imagination, notably the imagination of "Harry Potter" fans and random physics geniuses who strive to create real-life invisibility cloaks. One such brainiac, Baile Zhang, an assistant professor of physics at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, showed off his "invisibility cloak" on Monday at the TED2013 talks in Long Beach, Calif.

Presenting as part of TED Fellows Day, a day when young researchers, artists, and other assorted brilliant minds are selected to give four-minute talks, Zhang awed the audience with his awesome cloak.

Zhang's device is in its early stages; just a small gizmo in prototype phase — but it works. Speaking to Carla Sinclair of Boing Boing, Zhang explained that the cloak is made out of two pieces of natural calcite (optical crystals) that are joined together. The calcite bends light and suppresses shadows, tricking the eye into seeing nothing.

Sinclair writes of the demo, “The cloak's ability to conceal an object so that both the cloak and the object become invisible was astonishing. Zhang placed the cloak over a bright pink Post-it note and voila! Nothing! The pink paper disappeared. And the cloak itself wasn't really visible in the first place.”

As inventors generally have a purpose in mind for the innovations they conjure up, it’s logical to assume that Zhang’s extreme camouflage machine is being developed for the military or some other high-end application, but no. When asked what his plans were, he said that it had no purpose, he “just created it for fun.” Such are the hobbies of whiz-kid wizards.

See (or don’t see) a demo of the device below:

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