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<Science reveals secrets of invisibility ⁄ >

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(CNN) -- Invisibility has long been a fantastical ability exclusively enjoyed by teenage wizards, super heroes and the ultra-advanced civilisations of science fiction.

But more pragmatic-minded scientists and engineers now believe that invisibility-enabling technology may be within reach of lesser mortals as well.

The key to that possibility is the development of increasingly complex metamaterials -- manmade composites engineered on a nano scale with properties entirely different to anything found in nature.

Doctor Ulf Leonhardt, a physicist at Scotland's St. Andrews University who has recently published two papers on the theory behind invisibility technology, said the key was developing a transparent material capable of bending light around an object concealed behind it.

"What you want to do is to surround yourself with a transparent material that is not only transparent but bends the light around you," Leonhardt told CNN.

Leonhardt said the underlying principle was inspired by natural phenomena when light is bent to create optical illusions such as the refraction of a spoon in water or a mirage in the desert or on hot tarmac.

"There are many examples of ways a transparent material like water glass or air can bend light," said Leonhardt. "The reason that is possible is because light will always take the shortest route, which is not always a straight line. All you need is a transparent material that bends light around an object like water moving around a stone."

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