November 27/
December4, 2006


Robot deals with damage

A four-legged robot that maintains an awareness of itself is able to adapt to damage by recognizing what has changed and altering its gait to compensate. Robots that adapt to unexpected changes are important in places where human repair crews can't get at damaged robots, especially in remote and hazardous environments like outerspace. (Resilient Machines through Continuous Self-Modeling, Science, November 17, 2006)

Shape shifter expands repertoire

A polymer material changes shape twice in response to external stimulation like heat or light, morphing from an initial shape to a second shape and then a third. The material could be used in medical devices, for example stents that need to be one shape for insertion, another shape for use and a third shape for removal. (Polymeric Triple-Shape Materials, Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences, published online November 20, 2006)

Spiky surface kills bugs

A plastic material that forms microscopic spikes on surfaces kills bacteria and viruses on contact. The material could be used as a coating that helps curb the spread of infections in hospitals. (Polymeric Coatings That Inactivate Both Influenza Virus and Pathogenic Bacteria, Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences, November 21, 2006)

Nanoparticles flag cocaine

A simple, rapid test comparable to pH strips detects substances like cocaine in blood samples. The strips contain gold nanoparticles bound into clumps by short DNA strands that release the nanoparticles in the presence of cocaine-specific molecules. The free nanoparticles collect at a barrier on the strip, producing a visible red line. The technique could be applied to rapidly detecting all sorts of substances for medical diagnosis and environmental monitoring. (A Simple and Sensitive "Dip-Stick" Test in Serum Based on Lateral Flow Separation of Aptamer-Linked Nanostructures, Anglewandte Chemie International Edition, published online November 9, 2006)

Double-duty nanocrystals

Nanocrystals made of iron cobalt surrounded by a shell of graphite are highly magnetic and readily absorb infrared light. This makes them useful for both diagnosing and treating disease because they can serve as a contrast agent in magnetic resonance imaging and as a substance that can be heated inside the body to kill diseased cells and tissue. (FeCo/Graphitic-Shell Nanocrystals as Advanced Magnetic-Resonance-Imaging and Near-Infrared Agents, Nature Materials, published online November 19, 2006)

Nanotubes move heat uphill

Nanotubes stuffed with more molecules at one end than the other can conduct heat in the wrong direction, from warm to warmer rather than the usual warm to cold. The nanotubes could be used to cool computer chips, make refrigerators without gases or compressors, and reduce the costs of heating and cooling buildings. (Solid-State Thermal Rectifier, Science, November 17, 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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December 7, 2006
Plankton peril
A NASA study shows that global warming decreases the amount of phytoplankton, the microscopic plants that underpin the ocean food chain. This delivers a double blow...

November 23, 2006
Perceiving is believing

November 21, 2006
Cold hard money

November 14, 2006
Global warming roundup


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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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