February 18/25, 2008


Power suits

Clothing made from fibers covered with nanoscale bristles could generate electricity from the wearer's movements and even the wearer's heartbeat. Fibers coated with vertical nanowires produce electricity when the nanowires brush against each other, inducing the piezoelectric effect. Such nanowire fabrics could be used to power personal electronic devices and sensors. (Microfibre–Nanowire Hybrid Structure for Energy Scavenging, Nature, February 14, 2008)

Power walking

A knee brace performs regenerative breaking for people, converting energy from each stride into electricity. The device captures energy normally lost as you slow down the forward swing of your leg, and requires little more effort than normal walking. A pair of the devices produces as much as 5 watts of electricity; the energy could be used to power prosthetic limbs and portable devices. (Biomechanical Energy Harvesting: Generating Electricity During Walking with Minimal User Effort, Science, February 8, 2008)

Low-power chips

A new way of making computer chips reduces the amount of power they consume, promising to extend the battery life of devices like cell phones and sensors and enable devices like medical implants that can be powered by ambient energy. A prototype chip operates on 0.3 volt rather than the usual 1 volt. (A 65nm Sub-Vt Microcontroller with Integrated SRAM and Switched-Capacitor DC-DC Converter, International Solid-State Circuits Conference, February 3-7, 2008, San Francisco, CA)

Biofuels' down side

A pair of studies shows that converting food cropland and uncultivated land to biofuel cropland causes a net increase in greenhouse gases. The carbon emissions from clearing these lands to convert them outweigh the emissions reductions from replacing fossil fuels with the biofuels grown on the cleared lands. (Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land Use Change, Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt, Science, published online February 7, 2008)

Double-stranded DNA conducts

Single DNA molecules in their native double-stranded configuration are good electrical conductors. Even a single mismatch between the two strands, however, decreases the molecule's conductance 300 fold. The knowledge promises to help researchers develop sensors and medical diagnostic devices, and could improve efforts to develop DNA-based nanoelectronics. (Conductivity of a Single DNA Duplex Bridging a Carbon Nanotube Gap, Nature Nanotechnology, published online February 10, 2008)

Updatable holographic display

A 4- by 4-inch holographic display made from photorefractive polymers produces three-dimensional images within a few minutes. The images can be viewed for several hours without needing to be refreshed and can be completely erased. Holographic three-dimensional images, which can be viewed without special eyewear, are useful for medical, military and industrial imaging. (An Updatable Holographic Three-dimensional Display, Nature, February 7, 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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