Home Science Tech New ‘Stealth’ Material Hides Hot Objects From Infrared Eyes

New ‘Stealth’ Material Hides Hot Objects From Infrared Eyes

Infrared cameras are the heat-sensing eyes that help drones find their targets even in the dead of night or through heavy fog. Hiding from such detectors could become much easier, thanks to a new cloaking material that renders objects — and people — practically invisible.

Hongrui Jiang, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said:

Warm objects, like human bodies or tank engines, emit heat as infrared light. The new stealth sheet, described this week in the research journal Advanced Engineering Materials, offers substantial improvements over other heat-masking technologies. Jiang explained:

Less than one millimeter thick, the sheet absorbs approximately 94 percent of the infrared light it encounters. Trapping so much light means that warm objects beneath the cloaking material become almost completely invisible to infrared detectors. Importantly, the stealth material can strongly absorb light in the so-called mid- and long-wavelength infrared range, the type of light emitted by objects at approximately human body temperature.

A newly developed stealth sheet can hide hot objects like human bodies or military vehicles from infrared cameras. (Image: HONGRUI JIANG)
A newly developed stealth sheet can hide hot objects like human bodies or military vehicles from infrared cameras. (Image: HONGRUI JIANG)

By incorporating electronic heating elements into the stealth sheet, the researchers have also created a high-tech disguise for tricking infrared cameras. Jiang added:

To trap infrared light, Jiang and colleagues turned to a unique material called black silicon, which is commonly incorporated into solar cells. Black silicon absorbs light because it consists of millions of microscopic needles (called nanowires) all pointing upward like a densely-packed forest. Incoming light reflects back and forth between the vertical spires, bouncing around within the material instead of escaping.

Although black silicon has long been known to absorb visible light, Jiang and colleagues were the first to see the material’s potential for trapping infrared. They boosted its absorptive properties by tweaking the method through which they created their material. Jiang, who developed the material in National Science Foundation-supported facilities at UW-Madison, said:

They make those nanowires by using tiny particles of silver to help etch down into a thin layer of solid silicon, which results in a thicket of tall needles. Both the nanowires and the silver particles contribute to absorbing infrared light. The researchers’ black silicon also has a flexible backing interspersed with small air channels. Those air channels prevent the stealth sheet from heating up too quickly as it absorbs infrared light.

Provided by: University of Wisconsin-Madison [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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Troy Oakes
Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

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