November 13/20, 2006


Greener hydrogen

Spraying fine droplets of vegetable oils or biofuels onto a very hot catalyst in the presence of oxygen produces hydrogen without forming the layers of carbon that deactivate catalysts. The technique could be used to produce hydrogen from renewable resources for fuel cells or hydrogen combustion engines. (Renewable Hydrogen from Nonvolatile Fuels by Reactive Flash Volatilization, Science, November 3, 2006)

Hyper breathalyzer

A breath analyzer that doesn't require sample preparation rapidly produces a molecular fingerprint of a breath sample. The device could be used to diagnose diseases and for medical research. (Rapid In Vivo Fingerprinting of Nonvolatile Compounds in Breath by Extractive Electrospray Ionization Quadrupole Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, published online November 2, 2006)

Nanotubes on metal

A pair of techniques put arrays of carbon nanotubes on metal surfaces, which provides strong electrical contacts for the nanotubes. Metal-mounted nanotubes promise high-performance capacitors, like those used in electric and hybrid cars, and field emitters, which could be used in high-resolution displays and scientific instruments. One technique uses a high-temperature nickel alloy that can withstand the heat of the nanotube growth process, and the other transfers arrays of nanotubes grown on silicon to low-temperature solders on metal surfaces. (Direct Growth of Aligned Carbon Nanotubes on Bulk Metals, Nature Nanotechnology, November 2006; Contact Transfer of Aligned Carbon Nanotube Arrays onto Conducting Substrates, Applied Physics Letters, October 16, 2006)

Nerve-nanotube circuit

Nerve cells grown on films of electrically-conducting single-walled carbon nanotubes make it possible to electrically stimulate the nerve cells without damaging them. The technique could be used to make medical implants that control pain or stimulate motor neurons. (Stimulation of Neural Cells by Lateral Currents in Conductive Layer-by-Layer Films of Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes, Advanced Materials, November 15, 2006)

Spying on an electron

Shining a weak laser beam on a single electron trapped in a tiny speck of semiconductor material and measuring how the light changes reveals the state of the electron while only minimally disturbing it. The method could lead to ways of reading out data in quantum computers and quantum communications systems without erasing it. (Nondestructive Optical Measurements of a Single Electron Spin in a Quantum Dot, Science Express, November 9, 2006)

Light logic

A system of calculating the ones and zeros of digital information using the polarization of light opens a new route to making all-optical computer processors. All-optical processors promise to speed communications equipment that ordinarily requires light signals to be converted to electrical signals and back. (Complete All-Optical Processing Polarization-based Binary Logic Gates and Optical Processors, Optics Express, October 16, 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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November 23, 2006
Perceiving is believing
Your mind and your brain aren't always on the same page. An experiment using a magic trick shows that the success of the illusion depends on social cues...

November 21, 2006
Cold hard money

November 14, 2006
Global warming roundup

October 26, 2006
Shockingly alert


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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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