Focus on Cloaking and Transformation Optics

Ulf Leonhardt, David R Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic', as the late Arthur C Clarke wrote. So what does it take to do magic by technology? Transformation optics has developed some tantalizing ideas and the first practical demonstrations of 'pure and applied magic'.

Transformation optics gathers an unusual mix of scientists, ranging from practically-minded engineers to imaginative theoretical physicists and mathematicians or hybrids of all three. The engineers have been developing new materials with extraordinary electromagnetic properties, from materials for microwaves, to be used in radar or wireless technology, to materials for terahertz radiation and visible light. These materials typically are composites—they consist of artificial structures much smaller than the wavelength that act like man-made atoms, apart being much larger in size. The properties of these artificial atoms depend on their shapes and sizes and so they are tunable, in contrast to most real atoms or molecules. This degree of control is what makes these materials—called metamaterials—so interesting. Such new-won freedom invites the other side of the spectrum of scientists, the theorists, to dream. Just imagine there are no practical limits on electromagnetic materials—what could we do with them? One exciting application of metamaterials has been Veselago's idea of negative refraction, dating back to the 1960s. Metamaterials have breathed life into Veselago's idea, culminating in recent optical demonstrations (see for example [1,2]). Another application is cloaking, developing ideas and first experimental demonstrations for invisibility devices [3]. It turns out that both negative refraction and cloaking are examples where materials seem to transform the geometry of space. Any optical material appears to change light's perception of space, as countless optical illusions prove, but the materials of transformation optics act in more specific ways: they appear to perform coordinate transformations. If the coordinates they conjure up run backwards one gets negative refraction, if they exclude some region of space one makes anything inside invisible [4]. In physics, general relativity has honed the theoretical tools for understanding curved space and curved-coordinate transformations. In transformation optics, general relativity has become a theoretical tool for solving practical engineering problems [4]. What an unorthodox connection! This focus issue represents a snapshot of this rapidly developing research area. It is not restricted to optics or electromagnetism, though. Metamaterials for acoustics also exist and can be applied in ways similar to optical metamaterials. So transformation optics not only attracts an unusual mix of scientists, but also spans a range of applications in optics and beyond.

Transformation optics has the potential to transform optics, for example by visualizing invisibility and making materials beyond materials—metamaterials. But before we transgress the boundaries to the hermeneutics of transformation optics [5], let the papers speak for themselves.
Original languageEnglish
Article number115019
Number of pages1
JournalNew Journal of Physics
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2008


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