January 21/28, 2008


Contact lens displays

Laboratory rabbits are wearing contact lenses containing electronic circuits and light-emitting diodes for 20 minutes without adverse effects. The contact lenses are the first step toward contact-lens heads-up displays that would project computer-generated images onto the wearer's field of vision. (Contact Lens with Integrated Inorganic Semiconductor Devices, 21st IEEE International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems [MEMS 2008], January 13-17, 2008, Tucson, Arizona)

Silicon nanowires get a charge from heat

Two ways to make silicon nanowires yield potentially cost-effective methods of generating electricity from heat. One technique produces silicon nanowires with rough surfaces and the other silicon nanowires containing impurities similar to those used in computer chips. Thermoelectric materials hold the promise of generating electricity from the massive amount of heat wasted by factories, power plants, furnaces and vehicle engines. (Enhanced Thermoelectric Performance of Rough Silicon Nanowires, Silicon Nanowires As Efficient Thermoelectric Materials, Nature, January 10, 2008)

Switchgrass rules ethanol efficiency

A study of switchgrass grown for ethanol production on 10 farms in the central United States finds that the plant yields about five times more energy than is required to grow it and convert it to ethanol fuel. In contrast, ethanol derived from corn yields only about 10% more energy than the process consumes. Ethanol produces relatively low amounts of greenhouse gases on balance because the plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. (Net Energy of Cellulosic Ethanol from Switchgrass, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 15, 2008)

Sound invisibility

A theoretical study shows that it's possible to build an acoustic cloaking device similar to recently outlined invisibility cloaks. The technique could be used to hide submarines from sonar and to reduce reflected noise from buildings and other objects. (Suggested Scattering Theory Derivation of a 3D Acoustic Cloaking Shell, Physical Review Letters, 18 January 2008)

Magnets steer cells

Researchers are using magnetic fields to steer cells loaded with biodegradable magnetic metal particles to the surfaces of metal implants. The technique could be used to coat arterial stents with endothelial cells, coat implanted metal pins and screws with bone stem cells and to deliver drugs to specific areas of the body. (High Field Gradient Targeting of Magnetic Nanoparticle-Loaded Endothelial Cells to the Surfaces of Steel Stents, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 15, 2008)

Programmed DNA self-assembly

It's possible to trigger DNA to self-assemble into specific dynamic structures, including a molecular-scale bipedal walking machine. The key is choosing the right sequences in DNA hairpin loops. The technique could be used to build nanomachines and molecular computers that perform a wide range of functions including producing drugs and targeting them to tumors and diseased tissue. (Programming Biomolecular Self-assembly Pathways, Nature, 17 January 2008)


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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