more top stories »


— Science

Superstrong metallic glass developed

It seems hard to believe that glass could be stronger than steel, but a team of researchers has developed a super-strong metallic glass that has incredible plasticity when placed under stress, making it as strong and tough as metal. Typically, the structure of glass is strong but brittle which can cause cracks to develop and spread. The new metallic glass features palladium which has a high “bulk-to-shear” stiffness ratio. This allows the metallic glass to bend rather than crack – giving it a fracture toughness that goes beyond the limits of some of the strongest and toughest materials known. Read More
— Science

Jellyfish inspire flexible pumps

We’ve seen the swimming motions of fish emulated by underwater robots several times before, but jellyfish (with an exception or two) don’t seem to inspire mechanical imitation quite as much. A student at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (Caltech), however, thinks that their unique propulsion system might be the perfect model for another type of technology: tiny pumps that can be implanted in peoples’ bodies, or used in soft robotics. Read More
— Electronics

Putting waste heat from electronics to good use

Researchers at two different institutions have recently announced the development of technologies for converting waste heat from electronics into something useful. At the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), they’ve created a silicon nanomesh film that could collect heat from electric appliances such as computers or refrigerators and convert it to electricity. Meanwhile, their colleagues at Ohio State University (OSU) have been working with a semiconducting material that has the capacity to turn waste heat from computers into additional processing power. Read More
— Good Thinking

Schooling fish inspire new approach to wind farming

Schooling fish, it turns out, have a lot to teach us about setting up wind farms. That’s the conclusion reached by John Dabiri, a fluid dynamics expert from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). One of the biggest current problems with wind farms is the large land area that they require - if you place the turbines too close to one another, they will be adversely effected by each other’s turbulence. By applying principles learned from observing fish, however, Dabiri thinks he might have found a solution. Read More
— Science

New metamaterial could lead to more efficient solar cells

Metamaterials are manmade substances designed to do some very weird things that natural materials don’t. The path of a beam of light through a natural material like glass is predictable, but scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have engineered an optical material that bends light in the wrong direction. This new negative-index metamaterial (NIM) could have several valuable uses including invisibility cloaking, superlensing (imaging nano-scale objects using visible light) and improved light collection in solar cells. Read More
— Medical

Sound lasers inch closer to reality

Fifty years after the invention of the optical laser, two separate research groups have independently made important steps toward making phonon lasers — a type of laser that emits very high-frequency, coordinated sound rather than light waves — a reality. The studies, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, could lead to a completely new kind of laser that could find interesting applications in medical imaging. Read More
— Science

Less is more for highly absorbing, flexible, cheaper solar cells

Using arrays of long, thin silicon wires embedded in a polymer substrate, a team of researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have created a new type of flexible solar cell. Promising enhanced sunlight absorption and efficient conversion of photons into electrons, the new solar cell uses only a fraction of the expensive semiconductor materials required by conventional solar cells, and because they are flexible, they will be cheaper to manufacture. Read More
— Robotics

Cyclops - the visually-impaired robot

Scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have created a remote-controlled robot to help test the effectiveness of visual prostheses, such as an artificial retina, which are implanted into visually-impaired patients. Cyclops the robot - or, rather, the mobile robotic platform, or rover - lets scientists “see” the results that human patients could expect without having to test the device on them first. It is hoped that this approach may spare them some unnecessary procedures and one day lead to giving blind people the freedom of independence. Read More
— Space

Cosmic rays hit Space-Age high

NASA has a warning for everyone planning a trip to Mars in the near future – it might be a good idea to wrap yourself in an extra layer of tinfoil when you travel According to sensors on NASA's ACE (Advanced Composition Explorer) spacecraft, galactic cosmic rays have just hit a Space Age high, reaching levels 19 percent higher than observed in the past 50 years and sparking a rethink on the radiation shielding needed for astronauts. Read More
— Science

Building circuit boards using DNA scaffolding

There have been a few breakthroughs in recent years that hold the promise of sustaining Moore’s Law for some time to come. These include attaching molecules to silicon and replacing copper interconnects with graphene. Now IBM are proposing a new way to pack more power and speed into computer chips by using DNA molecules as scaffolding for transistors fabricated with carbon nanotubes and silicon wires. Read More