May 29/June 5, 2006


Invisibility, in theory

A pair of theoretical studies (1, 2) show how to design invisibility cloaks -- materials that bend electromagnetic waves like light and radio waves around objects. The technology, which awaits the development of viable materials, has obvious applications for law enforcement and the military. (Controlling Electromagnetic Fields and Optical Conformal Mapping, Science, Published Online May 25, 2006)

Ubiquitous hydrogen sensors

A key ingredient of the hydrogen economy is a tiny, inexpensive, maintenance-free sensor that detects and tracks leaks of the colorless and odorless but potentially explosive gas. A prototype combines a nanowire-based hydrogen detector, wireless data transmitter, solar cell and piezoelectric generator to produce a sensor that powers itself from sunlight and vibrations. (Low-Power Detection of Hydrogen Leakage Using a Self-Powered Wireless Hydrogen Sensor Node, American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) 2006 Spring National Meeting, Orlando, Florida, April 23-27, 2006)

Cellphone as chemical sensor

A way to use computer screens to detect chemicals could turn any cellphone, handheld or computer into a chemical sensor or medical diagnostic tool. The system uses a camera to record the colors of light from a computer screen shone through a transparent film of molecules that change color in the presence of specific chemicals. (Chemical Sensing with Familiar Devices, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, June 2, 2006)

Ultraviolet LEDs

A light-emitting diode made of aluminum nitride produces ultraviolet light. The ultraviolet LED provides an alternative to bulky and expensive ultraviolet lasers for chipmaking, high-capacity optical data storage, airborne particle detectors, and water and air purifiers. (An Aluminium Nitride Light-Emitting Diode with a Wavelength of 210 Nanometres, Nature, May 18, 2006)

Speedy nanowire transistors

A study shows that transistors made from nanowires with germanium cores and silicon shells performed three to four times better than state-of-the-art field-effect transistors. Nanowire transistors could lead to a new generation of compact, high-speed computer circuitry. (Ge/Si Nanowire Heterostructures As High-Performance Field-Effect Transistors, Nature, May 25, 2006)

Stability for fusion experiments

Fusion -- the process that powers the sun -- promises unlimited, clean energy, but fusion reactors that produce more energy than they consume have eluded scientists for several decades. One challenge is containing the super-hot plasma produced by the reaction, which damages everything in its path, including the reactors. Introducing a little chaos into the magnetic field that contains the high-temperature plasma in fusion reactors cuts down on reactor damage. (Edge Stability and Transport Control Resonant Magnetic Perturbations in Collisionless Tokamak Plasmas, Nature Physics, published online May 21, 2006)


View from the High Ground: ICL's John Pendry
Physics as machine tool, negative refractive index, metamaterials, shattered wine glasses, higher capacity DVDs, scientific backwaters, risk perception and practice, practice, practice.

How It Works: Quantum computing: qubits
Photons, electrons and atoms, oh my! These particles are the raw materials for qubits, the basic building blocks of quantum computers.

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June 9, 2006
Mind-changing circuitry
Humans are good at making decisions in the face of incomplete or shaky information. We're able to work toward a goal without knowing every step of the way ahead of time because we can update and reevaluate

June 6, 2006
Simply pouring rain

June 1, 2006
Similarity is in the brain of the beholder

May 15, 2006
The pain of waiting for pain

"Physics is to the rest of science what machine tools are to engineering. A corollary is that science places power in our hands which can be used for good or ill. Technology has been abused in this way throughout the ages from gunpowder to atomic bombs."
- John Pendry, Imperial College London

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