back to article 'Spacetime cloak' could act as 'Star Trek transporter'

Top boffins at Imperial College in London, an institution famed for its pioneering research into invisible sheds, have outdone themselves this time. They say they have applied the undetectable garden sanctum theory of metamaterials to produce a still cunninger concept - a type of "space-time cloak" which would produce the " …


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  1. LuMan


    Don't Starfleet (or whatever they're called) use a similar technology in their holodecks, too?

    1. thecakeis(not)alie


      Holodecks used a combination of imagery to fool the senses, forcefield to provifde substance (and act as a treadmill) as well s replicators and transporters to create physical objects. Since replicators and shields are derivatives of the transporter (itself a derivative of subspace communications)...then yes. It's sort of based on the transporter.

  2. Alan Sharkey

    I don't think so

    How do you speed up light when it's already at the maximum (according to Einstein).


    1. Thecowking

      Depends on the medium

      Everything that's not a vacuum makes like travel more slowly, so you can be faster than the standard speed of light within a material while still remaining firmly below the speed of light in a vacuum.

      It's this slowing down that makes things like glasses lenses and magnifying glasses work.

    2. Blofeld's Cat

      Va < Vb < c

      "Light normally slows down as it enters a material, but it is theoretically possible to manipulate the light rays so that some parts speed up and others slow down"

      As I read it the velocity in question is relative not absolute and already less than c.

    3. The Original Ash

      Light through a vacuum

      "The speed of light" as people say is more accurately described as "the speed of light in a vacuum." it is possible to slow down and speed up light within any other material, as it will always be slower than the speed of light in a vacuum. These guys are adjusting material properties to do just that. Note that light will never move faster than "the speed of light in a vacuum" relative to a fixed observer.

    4. Eponymous Cowherd

      Bose-Einstein Condensates....

      can slow light down to around 40mph.

      1. Steven Knox

        Any suitably opaque black material...

        can slow much of it down to around 0mph.

    5. thecakeis(not)alie

      Actually, that bit is well explained.

      Essentially, transporters, worked similar to their FTL "radios:" they operated using subspace. The concept behind subspace was that it was essentially another dimension (or series of dimensions) in which the existing rules of physics don't apply. Say for example that you want to move an object faster than light. Impossible in our spacetime, no? What if you could put that object into a universe where the speed of light was higher, and the thrust of an Ion engine could move it at FTL speeds? If that universe mapped distances roughly cognate to our own, then when you recalled the object from this alternate spacetime it would appear to have travelled faster than light.

      Hokum by the standards of our current science...but reasonably well explained.

      1. David 141

        Rabit holes

        "The concept behind subspace was that it was essentially another dimension (or series of dimensions) in which the existing rules of physics don't apply."

        A lot like Alice in Wonderland.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Taking it to its logical conclusion

    We stand at the threshold of a new era - one where it is possible to teleport an invisible shed.

    1. Adam Foxton

      Think of the photo opportunities!

      Here's a "Before Teleportation" photograph

      And here's it afterwards!

  4. Steven Knox

    That's one FAST chicken!

    According to the animation, the chicken is crossing an 8 lane highway while traffic is moving. Not only that, but it must move with traffic, entering at one marker and exiting at the next marker down the road. Given 12 foot lanes and 70 feet between markers (rough estimate of the scale of the picture), the chicken would have to travel over 118 feet in the same time that traffic travels 70 feet (the distance between the markers).

    If traffic on this highway is running at a pedestrian 60 MPH, the chicken will have to be going almost 102 MPH to get across, assuming he can avoid the inevitable motorcyclist weaving between the cars.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      Not only fast...

      but without a body. I think there's a chicken decapitator on the loose in Imperial College. If the chicken is indeed missing her body then maybe the head was fired out of a chicken-head-cannon to get the desired speed?

    2. samwisethecat

      Re thats one fast chicken

      I think it would have made much more sense if they had used a frog rather than a chicken and had some alligators on screen as well.

      I can relate to that and to giant monkeys throwing barrels that you have to jump over

      1. Toastan Buttar
        Thumb Up

        Cluck It !

        A great game for the iPhone. I may in fact give Angry Birds a rest on the bus journey home tonight.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        you CANT use a Frog, the French have human right too you know.

    3. William Towle


      > assuming he can avoid the inevitable motorcyclist weaving between the cars

      Ambulance, so^Hurely?

      // :)

    4. Paolo Marini

      chicken here, chicken there

      yeah, they assumed that while the beams are going slower, the object several billion times bigger than a beam of light was travelling through a thick media of light... well done, boffins!

      1. Paul Kinsler

        I think maybe

        We can tell the difference between what we assumed, and what we use as an analogy to get the basic concept of the event cloak across to the interested reader.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      THAT'S ONE FAST CHICKEN! + Magnetic rail gun

      clearly you didn't see that world's fastest Magnetic rail gun they use to get it across the road.

      they filled the chicken head full of metal as no one cares about chicken heads on the barbecue ,only fried breast,wing and leg matter >_> you cant see the rail gun or the detached chicken head as its in front on the main body by the time you see it

    6. Anonymous Coward


      are aware of individual photons of light but humans sometimes need several photons to register them at all , a chicken/frog hybrid would combine discriminating between induvidual photons and very rapid processing where centrifugal inputs from the isthmo-optic nucleus make calycal synapses on the somata of unusual axon-bearing interneurons in the inner retina of the chicken.

  5. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Unclassified ..... but Highly Secret and MkUltraSensitive

    "Hey, boffins: You do the science, we write the headlines, OK?"

    Ok then, Lewis, now that we can do the science, would you care to start writing the headlines that do justice to what the science can do, or much more importantly, is doing, cloaked from view.

  6. Whitter

    Speed light up

    Decreasing the refractive index of what it is travelling through will do it.

    Relative to stuff in a higher refractive index medium obviously.

  7. Paul Kinsler

    no titles for me

    For the record, I never liked the "transporter" analogy, since at best it only gives the appearance of instantaneous transport. But this device _is_ a cloak.

    Rather pleased to see my crap anim in the Reg. :-) And for the full chicken analogy, see

    Regarding "already at the speed of light" above, you have to embed the cloak in a non-vacuum medium -- so you can both slow down from average-speed, and speed up to above average speed (max the vac. speed of light),

    1. Paul Kinsler

      "is a cloak"

      I see what LP meant now. He meant flappy garment favoured of vampires, not the more technical "electromagnetic cloak"

    2. stucs201

      "you have to embed the cloak in a non-vacuum medium"

      Well thats no use for Star-Trek then is it? Whats the point of a cloaking device that doesn't work on a spaceship?

      Mines the red one...

    3. Paul Kinsler

      mind you,

      although I said I above that I never liked the ST transporter analogy ... it does seem to have attracted the attention.

  8. Seanmon


    Bravo. I want this as my job title.

  9. The Original Ash


    That's the sort of mistake I'd expect a primary school kid to make, not an author and journalist.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @The Original Ash

      Think you failed the sense of humour test on that one.

    2. Alister

      pedant off!

      Oh please! It's obviously done for humorous effect, don't be such an idiot.

      In fact, as any parent will tell you, it's much more betterer than using everyday language.

      (And yes, that was deliberate, FFS)

    3. TheOtherMe

      re Cunninger

      This is a word that can obviously be attributed to an Edwardian 'scholar' named Baldrick, vassal to the noble Lord Edmund Black-Adder. Baldrick was oft known to have a cunning plan, and on occasion he would devise a plan that was cunninger.

      Don't you know your history?

    4. wayne 8
      Paris Hilton

      Adverb form of cunningulis?

      Title says it all.

      1. John H Woods Silver badge

        That would be cunningly...

        ... but cunninger could be a noun derived from a verb (like employer vs. employ) and therefore 'a cunninger' might be one who is practised in cunning.

    5. Mike Flugennock

      re: cunninger

      Artistic license, perhaps? It's what's called a "malapropism".

      A "cunninger" is, of course, someone skilled at the act of... d'ah, nevermind.

  10. Fr Barry

    The chicken

    For all the technology and science behind this it doesn't explain why the chicken crossed the road.

    Penguin because there is no chicken

  11. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    The Purpose Of The Transporter...

    ...was to get rid of that annyoing lapse in the action that would be caused by launching/landing a shuttlecraft.

    @Alan: Light "appears" to speed up and slow down when passing through various forms of matter. In theory, what is actually happening is that spacetime is distorted by mass.

    1. Chemist

      "is that spacetime is distorted by mass."

      Don't think this is correct. Spacetime is distorted by mass but that's not the explanation for 'slowing'

      My understanding is that it is 'slowed' by interaction with the fields in the material & scattering - the photons do travel at c in the vacuum between particles.

    2. Paolo Marini

      ...and nothing of value was lost.

      there are plenty of massless things that don't distort spacetime (you just thought of one)... does that mean that they are unable to change speed? or that our spacetime limits their speed?

      1. Disco-Legend-Zeke

        Photons... by attaching to spacetime, which is moving at C. Kinda like someone standing on a streetcar.

        If spacetime bends, the path of photons bends with it, for example gravitational lensing around a star. (After all, gravity is not a force, it is a distortion of spacetime.)

        Inside matter, spacetime is likewise distorted by each atom of matter creating a longer total path. The photon is still attached to spacetime, traveling at C, but the path is longer due to the bending back and forth of spacetime. We see this longer path as a slower speed.

        1. Chemist

          Re : Photons...

          This is basically nonsense.

          Mass ( and energy ) do distort spacetime and light can be 'bent' by this but the amount of mass required to significantly do this is HUGE, otherwise you'd see gravitational lensing at every street corner Yet light slows reproducibly in even the smallest amount of material no matter how long the path.

        2. Ben 38


          "Inside matter, spacetime is likewise distorted by each atom of matter creating a longer total path. The photon is still attached to spacetime, traveling at C, but the path is longer due to the bending back and forth of spacetime. We see this longer path as a slower speed."

          Sounds like someone's managed to unify general relativity with quantum mechanics... post your proof and book your ticket to Stockholm!

          1. Disco-Legend-Zeke

            Nothing New...

   I am just restating what i have read elsewhere.

            The only original thought is the part about photons "attaching" to time. This came to me when I started thinking about oft heard phrases such as:

            1. "photons do not experience time" (since a photon is attached to and thus traveling at the same speed as time, time does not pass it.)

            2. "As matter moves through space, time passes more slowly" (because the matter is "catching up" to time. Consider, a train traveling at 60 mph passes a stationary observer in 1 minute. That same train will take 2 minutes to pass an observer in a vehicle moving at 30 MPH.)

            How much does that gold medal weigh? I would be happy to share it with a math boffin that can write the proofs. Unlike Einstein I do not have a hot wife that can do the math for me.

            1. Chemist

              Re : Point 2

              So how come synchronized clocks with both train, stationary observer and moving observer will show essentially the same time throughout your 'experiment' and indeed after it ?

              Measurements will only differ significantly at close to light speeds etc. unless the measurements are over large timescales

              (Yes, I know this has been shown even with satellite clocks and commercial airliners but the time difference is very small, even with GPS satellites the velocity component of the relativity effects only equals ~7e-6 seconds/day - DLZ is claiming something - I'm not sure what I must say)

              1. Disco-Legend-Zeke

                It Doesn't Really...

                ...kick in big time till you approach C. The archtypical story is the space traveller returning after 20 years ship time to find his great great grandchildren to greet him. Airliners go fast enough to make this perceptable, though only with the best of clocks.

                That said, the mental picture has to do with visualizing time "passing" a stationary observer and a moving observer. At the speeds mentioned, there are probably no clocks accurate enough. Though, as i said it's just a thought experiment.

                1. Chemist

                  "it's just a thought experiment."

                  It doesn't mean anything -especially in relation to the article and your comments about it

                  The space traveler example is more commonly called the twins paradox by the way

  12. Saucerhead Tharpe

    Rodenberry was up front about it

    no need for a "never crossed his mind", it was done for budget and story telling reasons. He talks about it in one of his books

    1. Geoff Campbell Silver badge


      I believe he also viewed the transporter as something of a double-edged sword. Having used it to keep the narrative loping along nicely, they then had to engineer all sorts of reasons why it couldn't be used to extract characters from danger, to allow there to be any narrative at all.


  13. bluesxman

    RE: "A thought which never crossed Gene Roddenberry's mind, of course"

    No crossing involved, it probably just teleported from one side of his mind to the other on a beam of energy.

    I'm going.

  14. Ed 16

    Thats no transporter...

    Thats a somebody elses' problem field

    (with apologies to the Late Mr Adams)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Look like they've ...

    ... figured out how to cheat at Frogger

  16. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD


    So... do I have to decloak to fire?

  17. jbelkin

    Roddenberry DID it to SAVE Money & Artistically

    Actually Roddenberry came up with the transporter concept precisely because it was expensive to show them getting in the shuttle and flying down and landing on a planet ... plus it was not visually all tat interesting to see them get into a smaller ship, leave dock, fly and land - when them arriving and interacting on taht planet is much more interestng so hence, the transporter ...

  18. Nunyabiznes

    The title is required, and must not contain letters and/or digits.

    If the subject is moving at "a significant fraction of the speed of light", just blinking would make it seem that the subject had teleported.

  19. Paolo Marini

    yeah, but...

    if I understand the matter correctly, either you see a beam of light or you feel it...

    the object crossing the beam of light (that in some way is slowing down in the vacuum, for what they say) will be in complete darkness but feel the light all around it, while the other external observers will simply notice a sea of light... or just the other way around, mr Particled-waver...

  20. Anonymous Coward

    A real trekky would say.

    I am surprised no one has pointed out is that this would render the Picard Maneuveur completely obsolete. You would be able to create a deflected image of the said craft without all the hassle of going to warp speed.

    You would also not really have to worry about detection through gaseous displacement.

    There is your star trek parallel - no need to thank me.

    wIj coat 'oH wa' Daq Doq

  21. David Paul Morgan

    of course,

    ... it was the Romulans who really perfected the cloaking device.

    It seems that the new metamaterials may actually achieve practical cloaking/invisibility under certain conditions.

  22. AvatarCHRIS

    The Truth

    I never saw a future in invisable sheds. However this sounds more like when the magician climbs into a cabinet, escapes through the trap door runs around the theatre to reappear at the back. With this technology a greener solution is offered. As to cloaks of invisability? We all know how it works but we don't tell Muggles

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