A meta-flex membrane is placed on a disposable contact lens and illuminated with office light. A study shows how flexible super lenses could be used for visual prostheses, say the authors. ((New Journal of Physics))

Clothing that can make you appear invisible by manipulating light may one day be a reality, based on new research out of Scotland.

Scientists at the University of St. Andrews have developed "smart flexible materials" named meta-flex that are made of tiny meta-atoms, which are engineered mixtures of metal and circuit board materials.

These interact with visible light, changing the way the eye perceives an object by reducing its reflection and shadow. The scientists have scaled down the meta-atoms to a size of a few tens of nanometers, according to the study.

The discovery could pave the way for the creation of "invisible" clothing, the researchers believe. Previous studies involving the development of such clothing have been funded by military groups.

While cloaks have been engineered that that can hide objects from visible light in the past, they were formed using meta-atoms that can only exist on flat, hard surfaces rather than flexible ones. The Scottish researchers were able to develop a way of separating the atoms from the hard surfaces by stacking them in a lattice pattern, allowing them to now be used in creating flexible products like fabric.

"Meta materials give us the ultimate handle on manipulating the behaviour of light," said Dr. Andrea Di Falco, one of the study's authors.

"It could be possible to use meta-flex for creating smart fabrics and, in the paper, we show how easy it is to place meta-flex on disposable contact lenses, showing how flexible super lenses could be used for visual prostheses."

The research is published in Thursday's issue of the New Journal of Physics.