Scientists on Monday announced the invention of a heat shield that derives its design from cloaking devices that diffuse light.
The team, lead by Sebastien Guenneau of the University of Aix-Marseille and colleagues at the French national research council, say they have devised a mathematical model that allows for the cloaking of heat energy.
The study, which is published in a paper in the journal Optics Express on Monday, finds that heat may act very similar to light. By controlling how heat flows around an object, scientists say they are able to better shield objects.
“Heat isn’t a wave – it simply diffuses from hot to cold regions,” said Mr. Guenneau. “The mathematics and physics at play are much different. For instance, a wave can travel long distances with little attenuation, whereas temperature usually diffuses over smaller distances.”
Thus far, the heat shield has little practical use. The study has yet to produce a prototype capable of diffusing the heat energy of a human, although scientists say that a working model is likely within a few years.
The experiment reportedly focused on diffusing the heat energy on a micro-level. By controlling how heat flows, the paper’s authors intend to build materials that keep electronics cool or concentrate heat for solar power generation. The team noted that the tests revealed that the heat shield would keep components cool, which is of big interest to the electronic industry, which spends millions of dollars just trying to keep servers from overheating.
The process, which has been dubbed thermal cloaking, comes as scientists earlier this year announced successful attempts to fully clock object by distorting light waves.
It remains unclear whether the military has any interest in the technology. Military officials would likely use the technology to create more stealth armor, allowing soldiers to patrol areas without facing detection from infrared lenses.
Currently the military is able to use infrared technology to locate enemies and help track movement. Putting up an invisible shield would allow complete freedom and the upper hand to whoever has the cloak. Adaptiv technology, developed by BAE Systems, has already used this technology as a test-run on military tanks.
The study comes as a team at Cornell University earlier this year, working with the support of DARPA, announced that they managed to hide an event for 40 picoseconds by altering the speed of light beams, similar to those used for data transmission. The experiment is thought to be the first time that scientists have succeeded in masking an event, leading to speculation that cloaking devices are closer than previously thought.
The team of scientists are now working to develop prototypes of their thermal cloaks for microelectronics, which they expect to have ready within the next few months.