Physicist behind the ’invisibility cloak’ gains entry to exclusive society

By Simon Levey
Wednesday 18 April 2012

An Imperial College London physicist whose theories have underpinned the development of an ’invisibility cloak’ has been elected as a member of the one of the USA’s most prestigious societies, it is announced this week. Professor Sir John Pendry has been welcomed into the ranks of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, alongside other new members including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, philanthropist Melinda Gates and singer-songwriter Sir Paul McCartney.

The Academy is a leading centre for independent policy research in the USA. Members contribute to Academy publications and studies of science and technology policy, energy and global security, social policy and American institutions, the humanities and culture, and education. "Election to the Academy is both an honor for extraordinary accomplishment and a call to serve," said Academy President Leslie C Berlowitz.

Professor Pendry, Chair in Theoretical Solid State Physics in the Department of Physics at Imperial, is a condensed matter theorist who has worked at the College since 1981. His research has led to the development of the first working prototype cloaking device , which renders an object invisible to radar waves. Instead of striking and reflecting off the object, the waves flow smoothly around it as if it were not there, giving the illusion of transparency.

This work followed on from Professor Pendry’s research into generating a new series of metamaterials, which show a much wider range of electrical and magnetic characteristics than naturally occurring materials display. Metamaterials owe more to their physical structure than their chemical composition, and display unusual properties such as a negative refractive index.

Professor Pendry’s research has also generated the revolutionary theory of the perfect lens. This overturns conventional laws of physics to generate better resolutions than conventional optic lenses. The theory may help scientists to image objects smaller than the wavelength of light for the first time.

On hearing about the award, Professor Pendry said: "I am very pleased to be joining this distinguished society." The new class will be inducted at a ceremony on October 6, at the Academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the USA. Professor Pendry is one of just 17 Foreign Honorary Members elected in 2012.

Since its founding in 1780, the Academy has elected leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the eighteenth century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the nineteenth, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the twentieth. The current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

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