Active camouflage has taken a step forward at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), with a new coating that intrinsically conceals its own temperature to thermal cameras.

In a laboratory test, a team of applied physicists placed the device on a hot plate and watched it through an infrared camera as the temperature rose. Initially, it behaved as expected, giving off more infrared light as the sample was heated: at 60 degrees Celsius it appeared blue-green to the camera; by 70 degrees it was red and yellow. At 74 degrees it turned a deep red — and then something strange happened. The thermal radiation plummeted. At 80 degrees it looked blue, as if it could be 60 degrees, and at 85 it looked even colder. Moreover, the effect was reversible and repeatable, many times over.

These surprising results, published today in the journal Physical Review X (an open-access publication of the American Physical Society), illustrate the potential for a new class of engineered materials to contribute to a range of new military and everyday applications.

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