July 24/31, 2006


Plastic power

A special plastic can store large amounts of electricity and discharge it rapidly, two key qualities of the capacitors used in electronic devices from computers to electric vehicles. The material could be used to make small, lightweight capacitors that would be especially applicable to hybrid cars. (A Dielectric Polymer with High Electric Energy Density and Fast Discharge Speed, Science, July 21, 2006)

Biodiesel beats ethanol

A comparison of ethanol and biodiesel shows that ethanol yields 25 percent more energy than is used in its production and biodiesel 93 percent more. Ethanol reduces emissions by 12 percent compared to fossil fuels and biodiesel reduces emissions by 41 percent. Biodiesel also produces less agricultural pollution than ethanol: 1, 8.3 and 13 percent of the nitrogen, phosphorus and pesticides respectively. (Environmental, Economic, and Energetic Costs and Benefits of Biodiesel and Ethanol Biofuels, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online July 12, 2006)

Surround vision

A sphere made of light-sensing optical fibers can measure light in the entire space around it, unlike traditional light-detecting systems and biological eyes which work in a narrow field of view. The technique could be used to make clothing that "sees" and enable light-controlled input for large computer screens. (Large-Scale Optical-Field Measurements with Geometric Fibre Constructs, Nature Materials, July 2006)

Also see Fibers mix light and electricity, TRN, November 17/24, 2004.

Living sensors

Using parts of cell membranes to encapsulate live cells inside silica keeps the cells alive long enough to incorporate them in devices. The technique could advance efforts to use cells as biochemical sensors and biological reactors for producing drugs and other substances. (Cell-Directed Assembly of Lipid-Silica Nanostructures Providing Extended Cell Viability, Science, July 21, 2006)

Atom sorter

A laser trap and optical tweezers combination makes it possible to order and precisely position groups of individual atoms. The technique could lead to memory devices for quantum computers, which promise to solve certain problems like cracking secret codes that are far beyond today's computers. (Quantum Engineering: An Atom-Sorting Machine, Nature, July 13, 2006)

Test tube electronics

A chemical process for producing quantum-dot-based photodetectors is not only less expensive and more flexible than standard methods, it produces more sensitive detectors. The process shows that solution-based, or "wet chemistry", fabrication of electronics has the potential to yield high-quality devices as well as significantly lowering costs. (Ultrasensitive Solution-Cast Quantum Dot Photodetectors, Nature, July 13, 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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"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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