Stories tagged Physical Science


The shrinking radio: Courtesy Zettl Research Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California at Berkeley.
The shrinking radio: Courtesy Zettl Research Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California at Berkeley.Courtesy Zettl Research Group

Tiniest radio yet

A fully integrated radio receiver, orders-of-magnitude smaller than any previous radio, was made from a single carbon nanotube (CNT).

When a radio wave of a specific frequency impinges on the nanotube it begins to vibrate vigorously. An electric field applied to the nanotube forces electrons to be emitted from its tip.

This nanotube radio is over 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 times smaller than the Philco vacuum tube radio from the 1930s.

The single nanotube serves, at once, as all major components of a radio: antenna, tuner, amplifier, and demodulator. (Berkely physics research)

See and hear a nano radio

Videos from an electron microscope view of the nanotube radio playing two different songs are linked below.


High Bridge power plant smokestack: Things are gonna be different around here...
High Bridge power plant smokestack: Things are gonna be different around here...Courtesy tboard
At 7:30 on Saturday morning, the 570-foot-tall, 5770-ton smokestack of the High Bridge power plant will come crashing down. Xcel Energy’s new gas-fired plant is complete, and the old coal-burning plant, built in 1923, is being torn down. If you want to watch, try the bluff across the river. (Traffic will be stopped on the High Bridge, Randolph Avenue, and Shepard Road.) And be on time: the stack is expected to fall in about 10 seconds. Even the dust cloud should dissipate quickly.

More info from the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press.

An icon on the skyline
An icon on the skylineCourtesy edkohler


See?: She's obviously wearing her "no kissing hat," but he just doesn't get it.
See?: She's obviously wearing her "no kissing hat," but he just doesn't get it.Courtesy Elijah
Maybe I’ll just tag this one under “Oh… really?” or “you don’t say,” but a new study out of the University of California, Davis, has shown that men are much more likely than women to misinterpret messages attempting to “deescalate sexual intimacy.” And, really, not so much “misinterpret” as “understand the complete opposite of the intended message.”

Let’s try a little non-sexual test:

Person 1: “I’d like another piece of cake, please.”
Person 2: “No, there’s no more cake for you.”
Person 1: “Thanks very much, I love cake.”

Okay, what did everybody think was happening? See, as a man, I totally understood “No, there’s no more cake for you” to mean, “One sec, I’m going to go get some more cake for you.” I mean, I came up with the question, and I still got it wrong. But that’s because I think with my tummy.

The Davis study worked a little differently. 30 female and 60 male UC undergrads were given multiple-choice questionnaires, which asked them to select one of with several options for the meaning behind a variety of statements. The statements ranged from relatively indirect (e.g. “I’m seeing someone else”) to pretty direct (“Let’s stop this”).

The results were…um…what’s the opposite of the word “surprising”? Oh, right, unsurprising.

Men, it seems, were much more likely to interpret a statement like “It’s getting late” to mean “It was a good hit, head for second!” while women thought that the message pretty clearly meant “Hands of, Grabby, I’m going to sleep.”

Men were pretty good at understanding very direct message, like “let’s stop this,” but, embarrassingly, were just as likely to interpret “let’s be friends” to mean “keep going” as to mean “stop.” Any easy mistake to make, am I right? Because, you know, everybody knows that “let’s be friends,” for the whole history of humanity, has meant “let’s do it, weirdo.”

A related study showed that women often use indirect signals out of concern that direct messages will offend or anger men. The same study showed that, on the contrary, most men accepted direct resistance signals easily and without negative reactions.

So, ladies, remember to be direct. Even if it seems obvious. And guys, remember, no always means no.


Popcorn shaped dye particles double cheaper solar cell efficiency

Popcorn-ball design doubles efficiency of dye-sensitized solar cells: A close-up of a single ball, taken with a scanning electron microscope. The 300-nanometer sphere is large enough to scatter light. But its insides are made of tiny grains just 15 nanometers across.
Popcorn-ball design doubles efficiency of dye-sensitized solar cells: A close-up of a single ball, taken with a scanning electron microscope. The 300-nanometer sphere is large enough to scatter light. But its insides are made of tiny grains just 15 nanometers across.Courtesy University of Washington
Dye-sensitized solar cells, which are more flexible, easier to manufacture, and cheaper than existing solar technologies just got even better.

By using particles shaped like popcorn, University of Washington researchers were able to increase solar cell efficiencies from 2.4 up to 6.2 per cent. The porosity of the large balls (300nm) allowed light to penetrate into the layers and bounce around between balls increasing absorption. Each balls surface was made of smaller spheres (15nm) increasing the effective surface area. One gram of this material has a surface area of 1000 square feet.

The research used the pigment zinc oxide, which is of lower efficiency than the commercially used titanium oxide, but easier to work with during experiments. Titanium oxide layers are expected to show similar gains. While titanium oxide cells currently have a record efficiency of 11 percent, the researchers hope that by using the new method they can by far surpass this old record, possibly even surpassing silicon cell efficiencies. Such progress could make silicon cells, used for decades, obsolete, replaced by cheaper, more efficient, flexible cells.

Source; University of Washington News


Taking some of the poison out of wine: Don't worry--the snake died happy.
Taking some of the poison out of wine: Don't worry--the snake died happy.Courtesy niko si
South African entrepreneur and former pro rugby player, Guy Kebble, has supposedly invented a method of purifying wine that could eliminate some of the negative side effects of drinking. The side effects in question include headaches and nausea, which nobody likes. There’s still no word as to whether the new wine filtering technique will have any affect on some of the other side effects of drinking, like dangerously creative dancing, or telling that dude what you really think of his fauxhawk.

Before we get into the specifics of Guy’s technique, let’s learn a little bit about hangovers.

As we all know, hangovers are primarily the result of an epic scale battle of wills between the mind and the body. Always at war, a night of drinking might be considered a specific “battleground” between the armies of the brain and the body, an opportunity for each faction to make the other do something it knows is a bad idea. The desolation of the morning after, however, has time and time again shown that, in war, no one wins.

Ethyl alcohol is the active component of beer wine and liquor. We drink it, and things get a little goofy. Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is not to be confused with methyl alcohol. Methyl alcohol, or methanol, can be distilled from wood, and differs from ethanol by a single carbon atom and a couple of hydrogens. When we drink methanol, however, things get really goofy. Like, we go blind and die.

Aside from the goofy stuff, ethanol is a diuretic—it makes us pee more. Because of all this peeing, we get dehydrated after boozing it up. Dehydration gives us dry mouths and aching heads. Also, being dehydrated can cause or little brains to shrink slightly and pull away from the sides of the skull, which is kind of unsettling.

Along with dehydration, when our body metabolizes alcohol things get a little crazy. Shortly after consuming alcohol, our bodies turn it into acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a flammable, fruity smelling liquid, and it’s found naturally in fruit, coffee, and fresh bread. And it causes hangovers. The acetaldehyde is then converted in the liver to acetic acid, a reaction that redirects glucose (sugar) from our brains, and when our brains don’t get their sugar fix, they get angry. Also, they get tired, weak, moody, and unable to concentrate.

Finally, the presence of other chemicals mixed in with the alcohol, called congeners, can cause trouble. Congeners are products of fermentation, and are sometimes added to drinks to enhance flavor. They also can make us sick.

This is where the South African wine scheme comes in. Most wine, it seems, has sulphites added to it, to help preserve it from spoiling. Some people are intensely allergic to sulphites, but most of us just get headaches from them. But the alternative is drinking spoiled wine. Or no wine at all, if you want to get technical.

Guy Kebble claims to have invented a machine that purifies liquids using “ultra-violet technology,” making it unnecessary—in wine—to add sulphites to kill the little wine-dwelling microbes. And without the sulphites, all that stands in the way of joyful mornings-after are dehydration, acetaldehyde poisoning, and hypoglycemia.

That’s all? This Guy’s going to be rich.


Noted hurricane forecaster Dr. William Gray has offered up his 2008 Atlantic hurricane season predictions. (The season begins on June 1 and runs through November 30.)

Hurricane Katrina, 8/29/05: This image was taken by NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES).
Hurricane Katrina, 8/29/05: This image was taken by NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES).Courtesy NOAA

Gray's team, working out of Colorado State University, is predicting an above-normal season, with 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 4 major hurricanes (category 3 storms or higher). Why? A La Nina pattern creates cool water conditions in the Pacific and warm sea surface temperatures in the eastern Atlantic. Warm sea surface temperatures are critical to the formation of hurricanes.

What's "above average"? An average hurricane season produces about 10 tropical storms and 6 hurricanes. In 2007, 14 tropical storms formed, and 6 of those strengthened into hurricanes. But 2005, of course, was a record-shattering year, with 28 storms, including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Here's the Science Buzz feature on hurricanes.

Buzz thread on Hurricane Katrina, started on 8/29/2005.

Buzz thread on Hurricane Rita, started on 9/22/2005.

Buzz thread on the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season

Buzz thread on the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season

Do you know about the 1938 hurricane that crashed into New England?

Interesting weather websites

Share your natural disaster stories.

And, lastly, here are the hurricane names for 2008:

  • Arthur
  • Bertha
  • Cristobal
  • Dolly
  • Edouard
  • Fay
  • Gustav
  • Hanna
  • Ike
  • Josephine
  • Kyle
  • Laura
  • Marco
  • Nana
  • Omar
  • Paloma
  • Rene
  • Sally
  • Teddy
  • Vicky
  • and Wilfred

March 29 - April 4 are Nano Days at The Science Museum and other museums areound the country. To celebrate, here's a selection of recent nanotechnology stories in the news:

Japanese doctors are trying to build nano-scale robots to build custom-designed medicines,one molecule at a time.

Pharmaceutical companies are using nanotechnology to deliver more effective anti-cancer drugs.

Researchers at MIT are trying to develop an electric car with a battery using nanowires.

Engineers in California are looking for ways to use nanomaterials to store hydrogen, which may someday power pollution-free cars.

Scientists are using nanotechnology to develop more efficient solar panels.


Renewed hope for nuclear fusion

Magnetized Target Fusion
Magnetized Target FusionCourtesy Los Alamos fusion energy sciences
Nuclear fusion has been "just around the corner" for more than 50 years. Fusion reactions occur in the sun and in hydrogen bombs. Tremendous quantities of energy can result from the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium.

VCs bet big money on fusion power futures

Wealthy investors in California are betting hundreds of millions of dollars that the difficulties of producing power with fusion may soon be solved. The CEO of Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital thinks that "Within five years, large companies will start to think about building fusion reactors." Chrysalix invested in General Fusion, a Canadian company that says it has found a way to hurdle many of the technical problems surrounding fusion.

The company's ultimate plan is to build small fusion reactors that can produce around 100 megawatts of power. The plants would cost around $50 million. That could allow the company to generate electricity at about 4 cents per kilowatt hour, making it competitive with conventional electricity.c/net

Magnetized Target Fusion

Using a technique called Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF), a current within a plasma containing lithium creates a magnetic field which allows it to be squeezed . The resulting temperature spike breaks down

the lithium into helium and tritium. Tritium, an unstable form of hydrogen, is separated and then mixed with deuterium, another form of hydrogen. The two fuse and make helium, a reaction that releases energy that can be harvested.

For updates check this General Fusion Inc. wiki.


Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century

Want to know what to do with your life. A diverse committee of experts from around the world, at the request of the U.S. National Science Foundation, identified 14 challenges that, if met, would improve how we live.

Here is their list in no particular order. You can learn more about each challenge by clicking on it.

You can vote for which is most important

The committee decided not to rank the challenges. NAE is offering the public an opportunity to vote on which one they think is most important and to provide comments at the Engineering Challenges website


Zero Pollution Motors (ZPM) promises an "Air Car" by late 2009

A vehicle that runs on Compressed Air Technology (C.a.t.) developed by Motor Development International (MDI), is being brought to the United States by Zero Pollution Motors (ZPM). With a delivery date around the end of 2009, the Air Car will go 90 mph, carry six people, recharge from an outlet or compressed air tank, and cost around $17,000. This You Tube video gives an introduction to the Air Car.

Although the Air Car has been featured in the media many times, I somehow missed it until today.

Learn more about the Air Car at the Zero Pollution Motors website.