Researchers have finally achieved what was envisioned in the sci-fi comedy classic, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids!" by inventing the world's first shrinking device, according to PhysOrg.com.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work exactly like the device in the movie. The device can't literally shrink an object (you'll still have to rely on your clothes dryer for that), but it does do the next closest thing by creating a very convincing illusion.
The device works by controlling how light bends around an object using specialized metamaterials, a technology that has also been used in a similar fashion to create invisibility cloaks.
"The shrinking device can shrink the size of an object virtually, so we named it a 'shrinking device,' " said Tie Jun Cui, one of the lead engineers working on the device. "Such a device works at microwave frequencies and will confuse the radar or other electromagnetic detection equipment to make wrong decisions. Hence it may have potential applications in the military."
Metamaterials are artificial materials that have proven useful in the field of transformation optics for their unique ability to bend light in a way that can be carefully controlled by researchers. In this case, metamaterials were constructed in eight concentric rings each 12 mm high. An arbitrary object, such as a spoon, was then placed in the center of the rings. Researchers then shot light waves through the device, and the light waves were bent and compressed because of the design of the metamaterials. For any observer on the outside of the device, this specialized light-bending technique made the inner object appear smaller than it really was.
The shrinking device is simply a small variation on invisibility cloak technology. In the case of invisibility cloaks, the optical radius of the inner circle region is reduced to almost nothing. But by leaving the radius in the positive, the object remains visible — just shrunk.
Researchers first tested the device by running numerical simulations, but after those tests proved successful, experimental tests continued. The results showed that the device had an overall "good shrinking performance," meaning that the illusion looked exactly like a smaller version of the original object (as opposed to being warped with disproportionate dimensions).
"An object can be made to appear arbitrarily small as desired," said Cui.
Perfecting the shrinking device is an important breakthrough, but researchers also noted that the technology could be used to change the dimensions of an object in other ways, too. In other words, the device is essentially a high-tech funhouse mirror.
Perhaps it's only a matter of time before faux "weight loss" cloaks are invented, too.