May 15/22, 2002   

   Viruses make tech materials
Genetically engineer the right virus to produce the right kind of protein, mix it with microscopic particles of semiconductor material and the result can be liquid crystals, patterned films or other high-tech building materials. Mixing biology and electronics this way makes for cheap, fast, clean manufacturing.
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Virtual touch controls rats
For decades now, scientists have used mild jolts of electricity to stimulate reward centers in rats' brains. A team of researchers has found an area of the rat brain where stimulation makes a rat feel like its whiskers have been touched. The team coordinated the reward and touch stimulations to control a rat connected to a remote-control computer chip. The research could lead to artificial limbs with a sense of touch, rescue rats, and an ethical can of worms.

Laser bridges infrared-microwave gap
Faster wireless communications, safer medical imaging and better chemical detection are on the horizon thanks to a laser that emits radiation at wavelengths between those of heat radiation and the waves used by microwave ovens. The laser is made from hundreds of microscopically thin layers.

Plastic mix promises big displays
Video billboard displays and cheaper, lighter handhelds are a step closer with a technique for making liquid crystal displays by spreading liquid crystals onto a glass, plastic or silicon surface.

Laser patterns particles in 3D
Researchers have used interfering laser beams to trap and move microscopic particles for years. A Scottish team has taught the old dog some new tricks, including "roll over." The method promises to give scientists a better look into the ways molecules behave.

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