23 April 2017 | 9 °C

Real Life X-Ray Specs... Kind Of

By Rob Last edited 134 months ago
Real Life X-Ray Specs... Kind Of
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We all remember the adverts in the back of our childhood comics that promised superhuman abilities for the price of a postal order and stamped addressed envelope. And we all carry the eventual disappointment that rose in our hearts when we realised that, well, they didn't really work.

Of course these days the closest we've got is the terrorist-thwarting X-Ray machines on the Heathrow Express but we're pretty certain the relevant authorities would frown upon it if we sat down one day and explained we 'just wanted to watch'.

So imagine how excited we were (well not 'excited' exactly, just interested, we're not perverts or anything) when we read today that the boffins at Imperial College has supposedly invented a device which could render solid objects transparent.

The effect is based on the development of a new material that exploits the way atoms in matter move, to make them interact with a laser beam in an entirely new way.

The work is based on a breakthrough which contradicts Einstein's theory that in order for a laser to work, the light-amplifying material it contains, usually a crystal or glass, must be brought to a state known as 'population inversion'. This refers to the condition of the atoms within the material, which must be excited with enough energy to make them emit rather than absorb light.

We have no idea what that means but we're pretty sure that the process of 'exciting atoms' isn't as interesting as it sounds.

The article goes on to explain that "specially patterned crystals only a few billionths of a metre in length that behaved like 'artificial atoms'" have been created which, when light is shone into them, become "entangled with the crystals at a molecular level rather than being absorbed, causing the material to become transparent."

The scientists also think that the material could be used to 'stop' and store light, but whether that helps teenage boys see through women's tops isn't explained.

Next week: scientists at Imperial College announce a drastic improvement in the potency of fart powder.

Last Updated 20 February 2006