December11/18, 2006


Mini artificial heart

A tiny rubber sphere surrounded by a layer of heart muscle cells works as a microfluidic pump powered only by the chemical nutrients feeding the cells. The pump could be used to power medical implant devices without the need for batteries or other external power sources. (A Micro-Spherical Heart Pump Powered by Cultured Cardiomyocytes, Lab on a Chip, published online November 13, 2006)

Truer wide-angle lens

A relatively simple wide-angle lens provides a 151-degree field of view without the distortions of traditional fish-eye wide-angle lenses. The lens, made from a cone-shaped mirror that reflects light onto a small lens, could be used for indoor surveillance systems. (Wide-Angle Catadioptric Lens with a Rectilinear Projection Scheme, Applied Optics, December 1, 2006)

Breathable rubber

A synthetic rubber mixed with liquid crystal molecules contains infinitesimal channels that let diminutive water molecules through but block larger molecules. The material could be used to make protective suits that let water vapor out while shielding wearers from hazardous substances. (Crosslinked Bicontinuous Cubic Lyotropic Liquid-Crystal/Butyl-Rubber Composites: Highly Selective, Breathable Barrier Materials for Chemical Agent Protection, Advanced Materials, published online November 29, 2006)

Water tunes light chips

Photonic crystal materials whose tiny holes can be filled with water form changeable chips for channeling light waves. The chips could be used to make reconfigurable devices that control optical communications signals. (Rewritable Photonic Circuits, Applied Physics Letters, November 20, 2006)

Steerable bacteria

Bacteria that contain magnetic particles can be used to push microscopic beads to specific locations; the bacteria are steered by magnetic fields generated by electronic circuits placed beneath the bacteria. The bacteria could be used to move objects in microfluidic devices and to propel tiny machines in liquid environments. (Controlled Manipulation and Actuation of Micro-Objects with Magnetotactic Bacteria, Applied Physics Letters, December 4, 2006)

Worms in a maze

A maze of tiny liquid-filled channels lets scientists study the behavior of minuscule worms in the same way biologists have studied rats and other animals for decades. Research using the microfluidic maze shows that the common nematode Caenorhabditis elegans tends to explore complex spatial environments and can even be conditioned to look for food in specific places. (Maze Exploration and Learning in C. elegans, Lab on a Chip, published online December 1, 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 18, 2006
Subliminally impaired
It turns out that subliminal distractions throw off your game more than the consciously annoying kind. A study found that subliminal visual distractions impaired task performance...

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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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