Tag Archives: Science

Science Reports Invisibility Cloak Within Reach (But Not Within Sight, Duh)

A while back the journals Science and Nature co-reported that the Invisibility Cloak is within reach, according to — oh, 657 articles at last count.   You can read the actual article here if you’re so inclined.

Invisibility Cloak as demonstrated by Infinity Labs

Invisibility Cloak as demonstrated by Infinity Labs

And reading this, I realized it was time to pay tribute to my Uncle George Sutton.

Back to Uncle George in a moment.   About these invisibility cloaks…

At the risk of being a “me too” blogger — and let me state up front that I had to buy separate copies of the Harry Potter books so that we would not fight over them — can I just wonder aloud whether we would be so excited if we’d never had the term, “invisibility cloak” introduced into the recent popular lexicon in 64 languages?

Don’t get me wrong; I think this is way cool.  Scientifically speaking, it’s the sort of thing that should give us all goosebumps — the kind where you don’t know whether they’re good or bad.

(If you ever read H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man, you’ll know he imagined invisibility as a double-edged sword.)  But scientifically only, I’m astonished that scientists can now bend light and waves so that it renders something “invisible.”

Here’s the thing: we’re always doing this.  From the Flying Carpet in Ali Baba to the Phazer in Star Trek to the light saber in Star Wars.  Pick an iconic fantasy item, and someone will say, “we’re that much closer to it!”  And suckers like yours truly — and apparently 657 other people at last count — will write about it, share links about it, talk about it — because it doesn’t just capture the imagination… it captures the imagination in such a way that we’ve already got the picture in our heads.   Dramatic.  Poetic.  Astonishing.

Which brings me back, briefly I promise, to George P. Sutton.

You know those jokes, “you don’t have to be a rocket scientist?”  Well he is a rocket scientist.

And a bit of a fun-sucker, if the truth be told.  When I was six, one of my sisters and I visited him in Los Angeles.  He took us to Disneyland which was, for my six year-old self, something like what they say it is:  a dream come true.

Until my Uncle George, took me on the Matterhorn.  Speaking loudly and precisely (the better to be heard over the machinery), told me:  “This is achieved by very tightly engineered hydraulics.  And ball bearings!  You see, they exert pressure to lift the carts just so…:”

I listened.  It made no sense to me.  But suddenly I was no longer imagining myself zooming up the Matterhorn (where somehow, bizarrely, I would have a view of Flying Dumbos); no, I was on a Triumph of Modern Engineering.

I listened politely; I’m related to him.  Most people, I think, just want the illusion — that’s what they came for.  Whether it’s to Disneyland, or to a website — “Don’t bore me with the details, I just want to be one step closer to my invisibility cloak!” — they don’t necessarily want to know how to create; just to consume.

Which is why I must pay tribute to Uncle George.  Besides being a bit of a fun-sucker, he is also an exceptionally kind, witty, thoughtful human being — not to mention brilliant.   He is 86 and currently re-writing his book on rocket propulsion for the 18th time.

Put it this way.  Without the Uncle Georges of the world, there would be no Matterhorns.  And certainly no Invisibility Cloaks.

So maybe I didn’t get it as a six year-old, but I get it now.  Thanks, Uncle George.  For everything.



Filed under Random Weirdness, Science, Science and tech

Science: Hot? Or Not? The case for PR

I was browsing Friendfeed when I came across an incisive little post, “Does Science Need a Celebrity Makeover?”

Of course, there’s a dark side to it — or at least a stupid side. That would be when celebrities spout pseudo-science and their utterances transform myths to reality by virtue of being repeated endlessly via the Internet and video.

In essence, some part of the “celebrity makeover” for science is what I do: try to find the stories inherent in tech and science that may actually be news, and find a way to make them accessible to regular people. Well, more than accessible. Interesting. Cool. Sexy, even. Because some of the things I come across in my work ARE hot. Pupils-dilating, pulse-quickening hot — some of my clients could seriously change the world for the better.

I essentially translate them from uber-geekiness to something where a journalist (and that includes citizen journalists) could say: hot? or not?

So yeah, I think science does need PR. I heard a radio show asking why we were spending any money investigating Mars — or any money on NASA, period. 

Where is the sense of wonder? Of intuiting that the more we understand, the more there is to know? Or that we are just one piece in a huge food chain? Can it be fixed with more celebrity-coolness, if that is the current coin of the realm?

With the war in Iraq, the economy, hurricanes and gas prices — well, science may not seem like a high priority. Mars is an extreme example of scientific inquiry, literally and figuratively miles away from the forces weighing down on us.

But that’s why it’s up to scientists — and the media, and the PR peeps that help feed the media — to do that “celebrity makeover” on science. By all means, keep out the disinformation and misinformation — but somehow, science and tech need to communicate the same glamour and “gotta talk about it” urgency as the latest news on Rihanna‘s bag, Brangelina’s twins, Barack Obama’s flag pin, or whatever else is in our collective face that day. And with apologies to Bill Gates and Bill Clinton — maybe we need Brangelina’s oomph to get actual, accurate scientific excitement going again.

But until then — here’s to all the people who see the sexiness in science — and their efforts to discover and show the amazing and incredible joy in it.

Cuz that’s hot.

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