June 26/July 3, 2006


3D from 2D

A computer vision system estimates the three-dimensional geometry of a scene from a two-dimensional image and detects objects within the scene. The technique could help robots and other computer systems identify buildings, roads, vehicles and people in street scenes using information from ordinary cameras. (Putting Objects in Perspective, IEEE Computer Society Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, New York, NY, June 17-22, 2006)

Beastly blend

A blend of proteins from microscopic sea creatures and spiders yields a material with the flexibility and strength of spider silk and the durability and nanostructure of diatom shells. The chimeric protein can be used -- in a relatively simple, clean process -- to make many types of materials, including fibers and films that could be used for generating bone tissue. A (Novel Nanocomposites from Spider Silk-Silica Fusion (Chimeric) Proteins, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), June 13, 2006)

Naturally waterproof

Three different projects (1, 2, 3) have copied nature to produce superhydrophobic surfaces that mimick the wing of a desert beetle and the structure of plant leaves. The surfaces could be used to make waterproof coatings, water collection systems and labs-on-a-chip. (Patterned Superhydrophobic Surfaces: toward a Synthetic Mimic of the Namib Desert Beetle, Nano Letters, June 14, 2006; Mass-producible Replication of Highly Hydrophobic Surfaces from Plant Leaves, Nanotechnology, July 14, 2006; Super-Hydrophobic Surfaces from a Simple Coating Method: a Bionic Nanoengineering Approach, Nanotechnology, July 14, 2006)

Sturdier DNA

The DNA molecule, renowned for its self-assembly abilities, can be used to make nanotubes, but the tiny structures break down in water, on surfaces and at moderate temperatures. A process of patching nicks in the nanotubes with small pieces of DNA make tubes much sturdier, paving the way for their use in drug delivery, nanowire templating and other applications. (Sturdier DNA Nanotubes via Ligation, Nano Letters, published online June 20, 2006)

Electric DNA scanner

A method of measuring voltage changes as a strand of DNA passes through a 1-nanometer-diameter hole allows individual bases in the molecule to be distinguished electrically. The technique could be used to make labs-on-a-chip capable of spotting the smallest of genetic mutations, many of which are implicated in diseases. (Electrical Signatures of Single-stranded DNA with Single Base Mutations in a Nanopore Capacitor, Nanotechnology, July 14 2006)

Broadband optical chips

A silicon amplifier that powers optical signals across a relatively wide range of wavelengths is a boost for all-optical communications chips. All-optical chips that simultaneously process multiple communications channels promise to lower the cost and increase the speed of communications networks. (Broad-band Optical Parametric Gain on a Silicon Photonic Chip, Nature, June 22, 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 30, 2006
Crops take global warming hit
One of the few silver linings is fading as the ominous cloud of global warming comes into clearer view. Previous research involving greenhouse experiments suggested that the damaging effects of higher temperature and lower soil moisture on agriculture...

June 27, 2006
Less glacier ice, more hurricanes

June 20, 2006
Synchronization kills

June 16, 2006
(Warm) blast from the past?

"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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