‘Invisibility’ brings greater visibility to optical physicist Greg Gbur

Charlotte optical physicist Gregory J. Gbur turned to stacks of science fiction stories, a treasure trove of horror films and his scientific expertise and discoveries when writing his new book, “Invisibility: The History and Science of How Not to Be Seen.”

“Invisibility” is not a purely scientific book, although certainly Gbur has written his share of those. This is an entertaining book for readers curious about one of the most popular plot devices from science fiction and an understandable discussion of the scientific concepts that one day might transform these tales into truth.

“There is a long history in both science and science fiction of people trying to imagine how things might be invisible or how invisibility might be related to interesting phenomenon,” said Gbur, one of the world’s leading expert on invisibility fiction.

“My book looks at the earliest science fiction stories about invisibility from 1859 to modern-day research as people today try to figure out how we can make an invisibility cloak and what other strange phenomena we can do,” Gbur said. “The book is really made up of the stories of what people were thinking at the time they were making various discoveries, how they were making them and the troubles they had.”

Gbur, named an international Optica Fellow for his significant research in coherence theory, singular optics and the intersection of these disciplines, studies invisibility and related phenomenon as one aspect of his diverse research agenda.

“I still in fact do some research on invisibility,” he said. “I have an academic paper out now for review that talks about things that I write about in ‘Invisibility’. My Ph.D. work, which I completed in 2001, was on invisibility-related stuff. The main academic papers that caused invisibility cloaks to become a popular research topic didn’t come out until 2006. So, I say that I was doing invisibility before it was cool, as kind of a hipster invisibility theorist and also, because of my background, I had a front row seat to all the discussions that were happening about invisibility.”

A Publishers Weekly Top 10 Science Book, “Invisibility” was reviewed in The New York Times and featured as a “Must Read” book by the Next Big Idea Club. Gbur recorded a short talk about the book for the Next Big Idea Club.

Gbur also joined renowned astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson and guest host and comedian Negin Farsad for a StarTalk appearance with a lively discussion of transparency versus invisibility, how metamaterials help us interact with different wavelengths, what light has to do to make something invisible and other topics.

Gbur’s book is geared particularly for readers with interests in science, history and science fiction, with a writing style honed through Gbur’s posts on his two blogs on horror fiction, physics and nature, including Skulls in the Stars. “’Invisibility’ is written without equations and without extremely technical descriptions,” he said. “I really try to explain things in understandable terms, embracing the weirdness in both science and science fiction, and I try to keep it fun.”

Read the entire story, including a Q&A with Gbur on CLAS Exchange.