Stories tagged Structure of Matter


DNA origami
DNA origamiCourtesy Richard Wheeler

Nano robot uses two hands to twist molecules

A two-armed nanorobotic device built from DNA can manipulate molecules, twisting them into new shapes with 100 % accuracy.

With this capability, it has the potential to develop new synthetic fibers, advance the encryption of information, and improve DNA-scaffolded computer assembly.

The device was described recently in the journal Nature Nanotechnology; Dynamic patterning programmed by DNA tiles captured on a DNA origami substrate.

Read more in Science Daily

The new, two-armed device employs DNA origami, a method unveiled in 2006 that uses a few hundred short DNA strands to direct a very long DNA strand to form structures that adopt any desired shape. These shapes, approximately 100 nanometers in diameter, are eight times larger and three times more complex than what could be created within a simple crystalline DNA array. Science Daily


MOF-74: hydrogen storage tank: MOF-74 resembles a series of tightly packed straws comprised mostly of carbon atoms (white balls) with columns of zinc ions (blue balls) running down the walls. Heavy hydrogen molecules (green balls) adsorbed in MOF-74 pack into the tubes more densely tha
MOF-74: hydrogen storage tank: MOF-74 resembles a series of tightly packed straws comprised mostly of carbon atoms (white balls) with columns of zinc ions (blue balls) running down the walls. Heavy hydrogen molecules (green balls) adsorbed in MOF-74 pack into the tubes more densely thaCourtesy NIST

Chemistry happens where molecules touch

Chemical interactions happen only when molecules "touch". To maximize these interactions simply maximize the surface area of the material.

More than an acre of surface in each gram

Scientists are now creating materials so porous that one gram of material (smaller than a pea) has more surface area than a football field (~4000 sq. meters).

MOF-74 (pictured) can soak up more unpressurized hydrogen than if the hydrogen were compressed into a solid. Until recently the threshold for surface area was 3,000 square meters per gram. Then in 2004, a U-M team reported development of a material known as MOF-177 (metal-organic frameworks) that has the surface area of a football field.

New material breaks surface area record

"Pushing beyond that point has been difficult," Matzger said, but his group achieved the feat with the new material, UMCM-2 (University of Michigan Crystalline Material-2), which has a record-breaking surface area of more than 5,000 square meters per gram. J of Amer Chem

Learn more
New Nanoporous Material Has Highest Surface Area Yet
More Solid than Solid: A Potential Hydrogen-Storage Compound


No one could ever bust this grill: Try as you might.
No one could ever bust this grill: Try as you might.Courtesy Bradley G.
Here’s a little bit more diamond news for y’all. Scientists have discovered not one, but two substances harder than diamonds.

The first material is called “wurtzite boron nitride,” and the other, even harder substance (58% harder than diamonds) is called “lonsdaleite.” Lonsdaleite, as it happens, is made of… diamond.

Or, if you want to be a nerd about it, lonsdaleite is made of carbon, like diamonds are, but it has a slightly different molecular structure. It’s often called “hexagonal diamond.”

Nobody had realized that these materials could be harder than diamonds before, because no one had considered subjecting them to “normal compressive pressures under indenters.” When you do expose wurtzite boron nitride or lonsdaleite to normal compressive pressures under indenters, they go through a phase transformation—that is, something changes in the bonds between their atoms, making them stronger. The atomic bonds in regular diamonds can’t undergo this change.

What’s that? You don’t know what “normal compressive pressures under indenters” is? Seriously? Whatever. Everybody who’s anybody knows what that is. But… um, I don’t know exactly what it means either. I’m pretty sure that it means that the materials undergo this bond-strengthening transformation only when it’s squeezed really hard.

So there you go. Throw out your diamonds, and get yourself some… better diamonds.


Not Annie: I tried this on my own eyes, bu they were too gross.
Not Annie: I tried this on my own eyes, bu they were too gross.Courtesy tryingmyhardest
Oh, my goodness. What did I just write?

What I meant was “TVs on contacts, popped directly into eyes.” Except that I would never write “popped” and “eyes” in the same sentence.

Anyway, it’s looking like the future is still a bright place to live. Especially if the TVs stuck to your eyeballs are malfunctioning. See, Ian Pearson, a British “futurologist” (that means that he’s a guy who thinks about living in the future, even though he actually lives in Britain), has gotten some press lately regarding his prediction that we’ll have contact lens TVs/computer monitors within the next ten years. Displays integrated into contact lenses would superimpose images over what we see of the real world (or, as I like to call it, the “real” world), and, potentially, could be powered by our own body heat.

The technology such products would be based on already exists, according to Pearson. It’s just a matter of shrinking it down to size, and sticking it on your eyes. Contact lenses with non-functioning circuits and lights have already been tested on rabbits, which, after 20 minutes of exposure, had no particular complaints.

While the lens TVs might add a slight tint to your eyes, other people (or, as I like to call them, other “people”) would not be able tell what you were watching. So, while everybody might assume that the guy with the glowy eyes is stumbling around watching something very naughty indeed, I’d actually be watching the video of my sixth grade play, Annie. The joke is on you! (Although I suppose it depends where I have to insert the VHS tape—the joke might also be on me.)

Pearson also declared that we all could also have “digital tattoos” in the near future. Aside from letting the world know what you thought was cool the day you got the tattoo, this digital ink could potentially “pick up on the emotions portrayed by actors in TV shows and create impulses allowing us to feel the same emotions.”

I’m really into this digital tattoo thing, and I’ll tell you why. First of all, I have always really wanted to feel what it looks like Will Smith feels like (I’m guessing “sassy” but it’s hard to say at this point.) Also, I’ve found that my favorite emotions are the ones I feel in my skin. Emotions like “humiliation,” and “second degree burn”. Yeah, those are about two of my favorite emotions (so naturally “Home Alone” will be viewed frequently), and I think I’m not the only one. This one is going to take off. Zoom!

Now, it turns out that this report on the future was commissioned by the British electronics retailer Comet. I don’t think that this fact should affect our reception of the predictions in any way (Comet, after all, probably just wants to know what they’ll be selling in a couple years, so it’s in their interest to have an honest report), but I am a little sore that Pearson is getting paid for this sort of thing, and I’m not. Come on, now! I’m always coming up with great ideas for the future.

Instant cat whiskers

Instant cat whiskers… for girls!

TVs on bullets

The last meal you’ll ever eat (trademarked)

Playstation 5

TVs on teeth

Laser-powered lasers

Better spaceships

Hinged money (for folding)

TVs on money (regular money, not the hinged kind)

Non-functional t-800 model robots

Electronic smile cream

The technology exists, people, it’s just a matter of time and engineering. So where’s my freaking check, Comet?


What is this a picture of?: Simply put, it's the future.
What is this a picture of?: Simply put, it's the future.Courtesy Trilobite2
Check it out, Buzzketeers: Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have created a boat that is propelled by the surface tension of water! Holy cats!

See, when something floats on the surface of a body of water, the surface tension of the water pulls equally on all sides of the floating object. If the surface tension is somehow disrupted on just one side of the object, however, the surface of the water on the other side will suddenly be pulling harder, and the floating object will move in that direction. The Pittsburgh scientists found that, by applying a small electrical charge, they could disrupt the surface tension of water on one side of a small boat enough that the boat would be pulled in the other direction. Pretty slick, huh?

The scientists got the idea from watching the way beetle larvae move across water. The larvae don’t use electrical pulses; they change surface tension behind them by bending their backs in a particular way.

When I say “a small boat,” however, I mean that the boat Pittsburgh developed is 2 centimeters long. And it moves at 4 millimeters per second.

If you were small enough to fit into a neat 2cm boat, and could only move about one inch every 6 seconds, I figure you’d be bug food. (If I were a bug, and found a tiny person in a tiny boat, I’d eat them. For sure.) And think how awful that would be. So that application is pretty much off the table. The scientists point out, though, that similar boats would be great as tiny, unmanned (obviously) vessels for monitoring water quality, and might even run on solar power. That seems like a good idea.

Hey—here’s a video of the boat in action. That looks bigger and faster than what was described. Maybe it’s bug-proof after all.


A bear of constant sorrow: The expression on his face speaks volumes.
A bear of constant sorrow: The expression on his face speaks volumes.Courtesy Sketchzilla
Buzzketeer General Liza put me on to this story last week, and I’m glad she did. Folks should know the plight of the polar bear.

So, you know those images of polar bears standing on the edge of ice sheets, looking sad because the ice is shrinking, and they need that ice to, you know, stay alive? You know what I’m talking about.

Well… it turns out that shrinking ice may be the least of their worries.

How do I put this? There’s trouble down south in the far north? A great big bear has a… Oh, forget it. Polar bears’ genitals are shrinking.

Oh, this is bleak. Two genital-based posts in a row? I don’t like it any more than you do, and I know you don’t like it. But we’re being beaten down and overwhelmed by genitals in the news, and we can’t ignore the news.

So, yes, after millennia of fearlessly swimming in an ocean of ice water, the mighty polar bear is finally suffering from shrinkage. But this isn’t one of the many problems that global warming can solve—this little situation is being caused by pollution, not cold water.

Y’all know about bioaccumulation and biomagnification? Toxic compounds can be found at very low concentrations in the environment, but still end up at dangerously high levels in certain plants and animals. This is caused by organisms taking in toxins faster than they can get rid of them, and by animals eating lots of other animals or plants that already have toxins in them. That’s what’s happening in the arctic. Tiny organisms are absorbing certain organic pollutants from the environment, and those organisms are getting eaten by tiny fish, and those tiny fish are getting eaten by bigger fish, and so on until big fish, with lots of the pollutants stored up in their bodies get eaten by an animal that doesn’t often get eaten by anything else, animals like killer whales, arctic foxes, or polar bears.

Biologists studied preserved polar bear genitals (penises, testicles, and ovaries) collected between 1999 and 2002, and found that individual bears with higher concentrations of these organic pollutants (called “organohalogens”) consistently had smaller bits and pieces. The organohalogens act like hormones in the bears, and we all know the amazing things hormones can do.

Now we must ask ourselves that age old question: “What does this mean for the bears?” Well, it seems that bears can’t rely on personality alone for successful mating. Polar bears don’t reproduce that often in the first place, and shrinking reproductive organs (in both boy-bears and lady-bears) is only going to make things trickier. And then there’s that whole ice-shrinking thing, which has probably taken a back seat in the minds of young bears everywhere.

In related news, a couple of polar bears at a Japanese zoo were having trouble conceiving until their handlers finally realized that they were both female. (I imagine that they would still have trouble conceiving, but I think the pressure is off now.) Apparently telling male and female bears apart is difficult as it is.


This isn't me: It's some other handsome devil.
This isn't me: It's some other handsome devil.Courtesy Max Sparber
It’s true! And these facial scars aren’t from chicken pox or acne, no sir. Do you need me to provide a description of each scar and what it’s from? No, it’s no problem at all! Really. Here:

The parallel lines on my left cheek and jaw line: I call them “The Empire Builder” and they’re from the time a tiger bit me in the face. The tiger and I were wrestling, and things got serious when the beast realized that it was losing.

The two small circles on my right cheek: These are from getting shot by the vice-president. Which vice-president? Dan Quayle. He shot me twice in the mouf with a handgun. We were wresting, and things got serious… It was only a .22, though, so I don’t hold it against him. The man has enough problems.

The cheese-grater chin: I don’t know what it’s from, and that’s why I call it “Mr. E.” All I know is that I woke up tied to a snowmobile, underwater, with a sore chin. When I broke the surface, I was surprised to find myself in the Stillwater Junior High School swimming pool.

The lightning bolt running over the right side of my mouth: I call this one “The Harry Potter.” It’s from the other time a tiger bit me in the face.

So… What do y’all think? Pretty attractive, am I right?

Think about your answer carefully—you wouldn’t want to imply that the journal Personality and Individual Differences is a liar.

See, a new study published in the journal seems to indicate that women are attracted to men with facial scars, at least for short-term relationships. The best scars, too, aren’t from surgery or a scarring skin condition; the scars women in the study found the most attractive appeared to have been inflicted through violence of some kind.

The scientists behind the study (and it wasn’t mentioned as it whether or not they had scarred faces) believed that the scars implied that a potential mate was more aggressive, or had a greater risk taking personality. The scars could also suggest “good genes or a strong immune system.” So your scarred guy could have some nice, powerful genetic material, but may not necessarily be the type you want to pair up with for a long-term relationship.


While electronic devices double their capacity every 18 months or so, battery capacity per volume are lucky to double every ten years. A new breakthrough by materials scientists at MIT promises to drastically decrease the size of batteries. In a battery, only the surfaces of the electrodes create electricity. The key to making lighter batteries is to make lots of surfaces but minimize the material under the surface - in other words make the electrodes as thin as possible.

Living viruses manufacture paper thin batteries

MIT scientists, professors Angela Belcher, Paula Hammond and Yet-Ming Chiang have used genetically engineered living viruses to assemble thin-film nanowires as the anodes and cathodes of a flexible "battery wrap" only 100 nanometers thick. The virus is a derivative the M13 bacteriophage. It is 6 x 880 nanometers in size.

Three dips will do it

The genetically engineered battery wrap is fabricated by dipping a scaffold into three beakers. The first dip picks up a layer of polyelectrolyte which can be as thin as 100 nanometers. The second dip is into a soup of the 6 x 880 nm viruses. The viruses, which are negatively charged, stick to to the positively charged scaffold kind of like the bristles on a hair brush. These viruses, when dipped into third solution, are genetically engineered to pull cobalt-oxide and gold ions onto their surfaces.

After that, the polyelectrolyte is dried out, and the 6-nm-diameter viruses dehydrate, becoming harmlessly entombed inside a sealed compartment of inorganic cobalt and gold.
"Potentially, when we grow a lithium layer on the other side of the polyelectrolyte for the other cathode, we could use this material to make batteries as thin as 100 nm,"

Paper thin batteries eliminate need for battery compartment

Thousands of these battery layers could be stacked on top of each other and still be paper thin. Such a battery could store two or three times more energy for its size and weight than conventional batteries today. Its "wrapability" would also allow the batteries to be placed around objects rather than requiring storage compartments.

Source:Living viruses create flexible battery film EE Times


A gypsum crystal: This crystal, less than a foot tall, can still focus a tremendous amount of chi. Think about what a 36-footer could do!
A gypsum crystal: This crystal, less than a foot tall, can still focus a tremendous amount of chi. Think about what a 36-footer could do!Courtesy Tjflex2
You heard it here first, y’all (unless you heard it somewhere else first): there’s a cave 1000 feet below the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico, full of crystals dozens of feet long, and thousands of pounds in weight. At least one of the crystals, made of gypsum, is 36 feet long, and weighs over 55 tons. Think of all the powerful spiritual energy there!

The massive crystals grew so large thanks to the 138-degree, mineral-rich water that used to flow through the cave. This mineral soup was perfect for making mega crystals, but lead to the deaths of dozens of New Age crystal prospectors and treasure seeking paladins. (This is an assumption based on my somewhat limited knowledge of crystals and caves.)

The caves were uncovered by miners excavating a new tunnel for a lead and silver mine in the Naica mountain. This happened back in 2000, but I only read about it today, because a story on it will appear (or appears) in the November issue of National Geographic. (Check out those links, by the way—they have pictures, and the caves do look awesome.)


A beta tester tries out the "smuggle" function: It still has a few kinks to be worked out.
A beta tester tries out the "smuggle" function: It still has a few kinks to be worked out.Courtesy Chewy Cha
Check it out y’all: this could be the next Playstation Portable!

That model isn’t exactly in production yet, though—it’s a conceptual design of what the next PSP system could be, based on existing technology (or technology that will be practical within a few years). Its designer, Tai Chiem, is exploring how the technology could be implemented in multiple portable electronic devices, including gaming systems.

For those of you unable or unwilling to click on the link above, the new PSP concept is based on a large, flexible screen that can roll up around the cylindrical controller (which looks to be about the same size and shape as a cigar case). Controls would be on the face of the cylinder, and stereo speakers would occupy each end. The screen, when unrolled, would be made stiff by a small electrical charge.

The screen is based on organic light emitting diode technology. The difference from normal LED tech is that the light emitting layers of OLEDs are based on organic compounds. A variety of compounds, which emit different colored light when subjected to electrical current, are deposited on a polymer surface in a similar way to ink being deposited on paper during the printing process. Although there is some concern over the degradation of the light emitting compounds over time, because OLEDs emit light themselves, they don’t need a backlight like LCD screens, and they require less power to run. OLED screens are already being manufactured by Sony, and have been used in demonstrations of flexible display screens.

Because the controls of this future PSP don’t exactly look comfortable to handle, I’m assuming that the impetus of the design was primarily ease of smuggling. You wouldn’t want to try to sneak a whole crate of these anywhere, but just one of them, I’m guessing, would fit pretty well in any one of a number of common smuggling compartments. The location of the speakers on each end could lend itself to some hilarious sound effects too. The potential for a stray electric charge to erect the screen, however, is disturbing. It could make things tremendously uncomfortable for the smuggler, and put an end to any sneakiness previously underway.

What do y’all think? Cool technology for portable gaming? Or is this going in the wrong direction?