Making Fiction a Reality
Turning Implausible Science into a Credible Story
Article: An invisibility cloak hides objects in visible light
An invisibility cloak is an object that resides in our imagination – something reserved for fictional stories like Harry Potter. So when scientists announced they cloaked an object that’s invisible to the naked eye it became Boonsri Dickinson’s job to explain the magic involved.
Unlike fictional stories, science requires explanations about the methods involved for it to be credible. This is where the difficulty lies; the science is complex and hard to explain to those not working directly on the project. Explaining science related to popular fiction has an extra level of difficulty because people already have perceptions on how the result should appear. In this instance, the title invokes visions of throwing on a cloak and vanishing from sight when in actual fact the cloak is only millimetres in size and only works when viewed at the correct angle – not quite as grandeur as the cloaks imagined in our mind.
This then is the first challenge when writing a credible story about a wondrous concept, how can we make it interesting when the results, compared to our imagination, are such a bore? Boonsri finds the answer by detailing how incredibly simple the science can be: “The scientists made carpet cloaks from calcite crystals.” Well that’s easier than expected … cheap too! The difficulty of the task is hidden from view and we’re left with a factual statement that still leaves us curious.
The other method the author uses to create a credible story is to focus on the scientists. In particular, we are introduced to Ulf Leonhardt who has a deadline to create a ‘blueprint’ within two years – a small amount of time for something first thought impossible. Much of the article follows the ideas of the scientists involved in making the cloaks and their challenges and opinions on what the technology could be used for. In this way, we are introduced to people who share a similar fascination on the subject while also gaining an insight into their work and the science involved.
So it turns out writing a story about the actual science of an otherwise fictional concept can be done in a credible way without removing some of the magic. Are there any other technologies being developed based on fictional stories? I’m still waiting for my teleportation machine – how about you?
For those interested, I’ve included a video of Ulf Leonhardt explaining the fundamental principles of his research below.