October 1/8, 2007


Hot logic

A scheme to transmit information using tiny heat flows rather than the usual electricity shows that it's theoretically possible to use heat to carry out the basic logic of computer chips. Heat-based computers aren't likely to replace electronic chips, but they could lead to smart materials and help scientists understand how heat moves at the molecular scale in living beings. (Thermal Logic Gates: Computation with Phonons, to be published in Physical Review Letters)

Quantum pipe

An optical communications channel links two superconducting quantum bits, allowing one qubit to forward information to a sort of holding pen and the other to retrieve the information later. The device makes it easier for qubits to pass information back and forth, which could make it easier to build practical quantum computers. Quantum computers have the potential to crack today's security codes. (Coherent Quantum State Storage and Transfer between Two Phase Qubits Via a Resonant Cavity, Nature, September 27, 2007)

Puff and sniff

A sensor analyzes substances on surfaces, including skin and food, without requiring that the samples be prepared in any way. The device blasts nitrogen at a surface and directs the rebounding gas into a mass spectrometer. The nitrogen picks up traces of whatever is on the sample. The sensor could be used for medical diagnosis, food safety and security. (Neutral Desorption Sampling of Living Objects for Rapid Analyses by Extractive Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometry, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, published online September 4, 2007)

T-rays out of thin air

An ultrafast laser pulse split into a pair of parallel beams produces concentrated terahertz radiation that can be generated meters, and possibly kilometers, away from the laser. Terahertz radiation, or T-rays, can be used to peer through coverings, including clothing. The laser technique could be used for military and security scanning. (Terahertz Radiation Source in Air Based on Bifilamentation of Femtosecond Laser Pulses, Physical Review Letters, September 28, 2007)

Ethnic DNA

A software algorithm rapidly analyzes a population's genetic structure from DNA samples without prior knowledge of the subjects' ancestry by tracking DNA sequences that differ by a single nucleotide, or DNA letter. The single nucleotide polymorphisms algorithm will help scientists carry out medical and biological research. (PCA-Correlated SNPs for Structure Identification in Worldwide Human Populations, PLoS Genetics, September 21, 2007)

Extracting hydrogen and storing it too

A titanium disilicide semiconductor splits water into hydrogen and oxygen using sunlight. The material also stores the hydrogen and oxygen and releases them separately. The semiconductor could be used to cleanly generate hydrogen for fuel. (A Titanium Disilicide Derived Semiconducting Catalyst for Water Splitting under Solar Radiation - Reversible Storage of Oxygen and Hydrogen, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, published online September 5, 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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Genome transplant

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June 18, 2007
Plants go with the climate flow


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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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