April 16/23, 2007


Relatively faster

When certain physics simulations are designed so that their frames of reference are imagined to be moving near light speed, Einstein's theory of special relativity reduces the simulations' complexity. The technique could be used to dramatically reduce the computer power and/or time needed for simulations of high-power lasers and particle beams. (Noninvariance of Space- and Time-Scale Ranges under a Lorentz Transformation and the Implications for the Study of Relativistic Interactions, Physical Review Letters, March 30, 2007)

Nano generator

A nanoscale generator made from an array of zinc oxide nanowires topped by a jagged metal electrode converts ultrasonic waves to a continuous flow of electricity. The generator could be used to harvest energy from vibrations; this energy could be used to power nanoscale devices. (Direct-Current Nanogenerator Driven by Ultrasonic Waves, Science, April 6, 2007)

Solar coax

Coaxial nanowires made from different semiconductors efficiently separate negatively-charged electrons from positively-charged holes when photons from the sun dislodge electrons from the nanowires. These quantum coaxial cables could be used to boost the efficiency of solar cells and devices that extract hydrogen from water using sunlight. ("Quantum Coaxial Cables" for Solar Energy Harvesting, Nano Letters, published online April 5, 2007)

Artificial cilia

Arrays of magnetic nanorods can be repositioned using an external magnetic field, mimicking the capabilities of the microscopic biological hairs on the surfaces of some cells. The movable nanorods promise to control fluid flow in biochips, tune photonic devices and sense microscopic objects like cells. (Magnetically Actuated Nanorod Arrays as Biomimetic Cilia, Nano Letters, published online April 10, 2007)

Droplet origami

Placing a droplet on a microscopically-thin sheet of material causes the sheet to wrap around the droplet through capillary action; the sheet's initial two-dimensional shape determines the three-dimensional shape of resulting object. The technique could be used to mass-produce three-dimensional micro- and nanoscale objects. (Capillary Origami: Spontaneous Wrapping of a Droplet with an Elastic Sheet, Physical Review Letters, April 13, 2007)

Artificial mucous membrane

A prototype artificial nose has a polymer layer positioned above a sensory array to mimic the mucous membrane and receptor cell structure of mammalian noses. The design could help close the performance gap between electronic and biological noses. (Towards a Truly Biomimetic Olfactory Microsystem: an Artificial Olfactory Mucosa, IET Nanobiotechnology, April 2007)


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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