Category: Physics & Math

Look at This: We Can Zoom In On Individual Molecular Bonds

By Sophie Bushwick | September 17, 2012 1:47 pm

molecular bonds

We’ve come a long way from the first glass-and-light optical microscopes. These days, scientists can focus on individual molecules using advanced methods like atomic force microscopy (AFM), where a miniscule probe feels out the details of a surface. And in this AFM image of a nanographene molecule, the resolution is so high that for the first time, we can see the individual bonds between atoms, shown here as green lines.

In a new paper in the journal Science, IBM researchers used the same imaging technique to measure the length and relative strength of individual bonds in the spherical carbon molecules called buckyballs. Their method can not only improve our intimate understanding of these and other molecules—it also lets us get up close and personal with the building blocks of all matter.

Image courtesy of IBM Research – Zurich / Flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Technology

Watch This: Water Droplets Held Aloft By Sound Waves

By Ashley P. Taylor | September 14, 2012 4:20 pm

To keep droplets of liquid floating in midair, the device in the video above relies on a hum of sound just above the range of human hearing. This technology, called an acoustic levitator, suspends these tiny balls of liquid using two speakers that project sound waves in opposite directions, counteracting the force of gravity. Originally, NASA developed the device to simulate microgravity. Now researchers at Argonne National Lab are using it as a way to evaporate drug compounds in midair so they take on a more potent chemical form than they would in a container.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math

Pyrex Glass Isn't As Shatterproof As It Once Was, Report Finds

By Veronique Greenwood | September 13, 2012 3:39 pm

If you’ve ever poured hot water into a Pyrex glass dish and been shocked to see it fracture before your eyes, a new report may give you some insight into what’s going on. Pyrex glassware, which came out in 1915 and was long marketed as “icebox to oven” cookware that did not expand or compress when exposed to high heat or low temperatures, is no longer made of that hardy borosilicate glass. And the new stuff, scientists publishing in the American Ceramics Society Bulletin have found, doesn’t stand up well to some of the temperature changes involved in cooking.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math

Letting Fungi Munch on Violin Wood Makes for a Better Sound

By Veronique Greenwood | September 11, 2012 12:37 pm

violin
Infected wood, soon to be carpeted in white fungus

File this under “news luthiers can use”: A Swiss materials scientist reports that siccing certain species of fungi on wood intended to be made into violins can result in instruments with superior sound quality, purportedly as lovely as that of a Stradivarius.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Physics & Math

Watch This: Super-Strong New Gel is Also Super-Stretchy

By Ashley P. Taylor | September 7, 2012 2:35 pm

The gel doing an impersonation of a trampoline in the video above is a new synthetic material from Harvard engineers, a substance that stretches to more than 20 times its length and can withstand more force than human cartilage, the resilient tissue that cushions our joints.

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How the Wet-Dog Shake Gets Mammals Dry in No Time Flat

By Sophie Bushwick | August 16, 2012 2:39 pm

There’s a certain expression a wet dog wears as it trots up to you, a kind of gleam in the eye that says, “I’m about to shake so vigorously that in a mere 4 seconds, 70 percent of the water in my fur will fly off of my coat and on to you.”

But the wet-dog shake, though it’s an annoyance to us, may be a survival technique to dogs. The water that sticks to a mammal’s fur can lower its body temperature, causing hypothermia, so it behooves wild animals to get rid of all that water as quickly and efficiently as possible.

To find out just how efficient the wet-dog method is, researchers from the Hu lab at Georgia Tech filmed 33 different wet zoo mammals from rats to kangaroos to lions and tigers and bears (oh yes) with high-speed cameras and analyzed the motion of their bodies, skin, and fur. Their research was first published back in 2010, but their latest study, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, improves their mathematical model of the wet-dog shake and reveals how much force the furballs can generate. (The paper is not yet online; we will provide a link when it becomes available.)

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Physics & Math

Move Over, Lasers: Masers Now Work at Room Temperature

By Sophie Bushwick | August 15, 2012 1:02 pm

maser
The core of the new room-temperature maser

When the laser was first invented, it was “a solution waiting for a problem,” a piece of cutting-edge technology with no applications. Today, found in everything from sensors to communications to surgery, the laser has come into its own—but it may be time to step aside and share the spotlight with its older brother, the maser.

Lasers and masers work on the same principle, amplifying light through a process called stimulated emission, except that lasers amplify visible light while masers act on microwaves. Light and microwaves are both forms of electromagnetic radiation, but microwaves have a wavelength 100,000 times greater than that of visible light. But although the maser has been used for deep-space communications and atomic clocks, lasers have always outshone their predecessors. And masers have only themselves to blame, as these finicky devices require extreme conditions like vacuum or cold temperatures. Now, however, researchers have finally produced a maser that functions while surrounded by air at room temperature.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math

Blame Climate Change for Increasingly Extreme Summers, Says Leading Climatologist

By Sophie Bushwick | August 7, 2012 5:01 pm

spacing is important

Even ignoring the wildfires and drought this season, the sweltering heat itself is proclaiming this an intense summer. And unusually hot summers are becoming not so unusual, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers averaged the summer and winter temperatures for multiple locations across the globe during the years from 1951 to 1980, establishing a baseline for each season. Then they measured how much the temperature varied from this average over the years. They found an increasing number of anomalies in the past 30 years. We no longer have equal odds of the summer temperatures being unusually hot, or unusually cool. Instead, as the researchers phrase it, we are dealing with loaded dice: we are now much more likely to have a hot summer than an average or cool one. And hot temperatures have become both more frequent and more intense. In the time period from which the researchers drew their average, less than one percent of land on Earth suffered from extreme hotter-than-usual temperatures (more than three standard deviations above the average) at any one time. Now, these temperature hotspots cover 10 percent of the land.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Physics & Math

What Makes Dirt Flow Like Lava? Scientists Look Off-World for Answers

By Sophie Bushwick | August 1, 2012 12:25 pm

Iapetus landslide
Cassini image of a landslide on Iapetus

Landslides can wreak enormous destruction, especially when they travel farther than expected. When an avalanche occurs, dirt both falls vertically and spreads horizontally, with the horizontal distance usually no more than twice the vertical drop. But in a sturzstrom, some unknown factor decreases the coefficient of friction, allowing the earth to slide much farther; it acts more like a glacier or a lava flow than a regular avalanche. Theories about that friction-reducing factor abound—trapped air, water, or mud, pressure, rubbed and heated rock becoming more slippery, rock nanoparticles, sound waves, changes in local gravity—but its true nature is still unknown. By examining sturzstroms that occur on distant planets and moons—whose forces of gravity, atmospheres, fluids, and soil differ from those on Earth—researchers hope to unravel the factors that contribute to a landslide’s length. This information could help us predict landslides’ shapes and alleviate the damage they cause.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Physics & Math, Space

Which Airports Will Give Wings to the Next Pandemic?

By Sophie Bushwick | July 26, 2012 9:59 am

Knowing how bugs will spread through the population is critical to containing epidemics—and airports play a huge role in the global spread of disease. Although mathematical models have attempted to predict how individual airports influence contagion, the models often looked at the later stages of an epidemic, or assumed that travellers moved randomly. A new simulation from MIT predicts the spread of a disease in its first ten days, and takes into account the fact that each human is travelling to a specific desired destination rather than bouncing randomly from airport to airport. Using these assumptions, and information about individual airports, the new model ranks U.S. airports by their influence as disease spreaders.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Physics & Math
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