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It’s what you don’t see

May 6th, 2019 / By: / My Take

by Janet Preus

Several years ago I thought it would be a good idea to do an article on research in invisibility technologies, taking the camouflage question beyond the obvious, you might say. I still think it was a good idea, but information and sources were … well, hard to find. 

Had I chosen to focus on “camouflage” or even “stealth,” I might have an easier time of it; actual “invisibility” remained largely in the realm of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School. But the dividethat I found between camouflage concealment and literal invisibility is, shall we say, less clear today. 

The improvement in concealment technologies developed for military purposes has been dramatic in recent years. We haven’t matched Harry Potter’s level of expertise, but today’s advancements are making fact ever more impressive than the fictionalized version. While there’s no wizardry, per se, there is good old-fashioned research into brand new technologies that could elicit that intense, whispered “wow.” 

But about the concept of invisibility, let me suggest this: If you can’t see whatever it is that’s meant to be concealed, that’s invisibility, right? If the thing concealed moves and breaks the “camouflage,” is it not “invisible” anymore? At what point are we talking semantics? Stealth. Concealment. Camouflage. Invisibility … Like a freshwater stream pouring into the ocean, at what point does the description of “salt” and “fresh” become less relevant?

Anybody with me here? 

Those who develop camouflage and concealment technologies, materials and applications for the military face multiple challenges because of all the other performance requirements a single product may demand. It’s not enough, in short, to provide concealment; whatever it is you’re making may also have to be lightweight, quickly deployable, fire resistant, UV resistant, durable, transportable and have any number of other properties.

The topic is intriguing, and I anticipate that it will continue to gain interest. If you’d like to learn more about this, I encourage you to read our feature, “Almost invisible,” by Marie O’Mahony. In fact, it should probably be required reading at Hogwarts School, just in case the “magic” doesn’t work out.