July News Roundup
July 23, 2014
The blackest material ever invented, solar-powered spacecraft, and the crushing environments inside gas giants round up this month in physics news.
June 25, 2014
The most seemingly mundane materials in our lives, like glass and plastics, actually contain some of the most fascinating physics and richest histories of all.
June News Roundup
June 18, 2014
An asteroid nicknamed "The Beast," Earth's most abundant material, bridgmanite, and the surprisingly strong sight of frogs' eyes roundup this month in physics news.
Beating the Game of Go
March 26, 2014
Chess masters have been beaten by computers, but machines still can't beat the best Go players. Nonetheless, mathematicians are working to perfect the art and science behind this classic game.
Phase Transitions and Bull Sperm
March 12, 2014
New research found a striking resemblance between bull sperm behavior and phase transitions found in physics, and this may lead to applications in contraception and infertility treatments.
March 05, 2014
Despite their fiery nature, volcanic eruptions actually cool the Earth over time and may explain a recent deceleration in global warming trends.
Olympic Snowboard Physics
February 19, 2014
Our resident snowboarding expert James Riordon explains the physics behind one of the most exciting Olympic sports.
Ig Nobels 2013
September 18, 2013
Water walking in reduced gravity, bovine behavior, and shrew swallowing are but a few of the quirky, funny research topics that won awards this year.
August 28, 2013
Myths abound in the world of bicycle materials, so Mike has untangled what truly makes for a smooth ride. Is it the material or the design?
Physics for the Blind
August 21, 2013
After losing his sight midway through his physics career, John Gardner developed a technology to help other blind persons in the sciences; but the technology goes far beyond the blind community.
Mysteries of the Glass Transition
July 15, 2013
Does old cathedral glass really flow over time? Mike investigates this myth and more mysteries surrounding this peculiar material.
May 22, 2013
See how NASCAR teams use physics to boost speed while keeping their drivers safe on the track.
Read more on this podcast's blog post
Super Sticky Gecko Adhesive
May 01, 2013
A material inspired by gecko toe pads might be the ideal household adhesive: it can support hundreds of pounds but peels off
April 03, 2013
This musical tradition hosted by physics professor Walter Smith prompts its physicist audience to belt out some of their favorite tunes - with a physics twist.
February 20, 2013
Scientists are adapting a shellfish's unique ability to latch onto wet surfaces strongly for medical adhesives and new nanoparticles.
Hiding in the Light
November 09, 2012
New research reveals how tiny crystals fish skin help silvery swimmers hide from predators by reflecting more light. The structures responsible for this creative camouflage could be put to use in man-made reflectors as well.
July 25, 2012
Even though Hollywood films aren't known for being completely scientifically accurate all of the time, the writers of some of the biggest films and TV shows have been relying on their science advisors to make the science in science fiction all the more believable.
Who is Enrico Fermi?
July 18, 2012
Physicist Enrico Fermi has his name attached to a number of monumental physics items, like Fermilab, fermions and fermium. Who was Fermi, what did he do to earn so much notoriety and the title of "universal physicist"? We'll try to find out in today's podcast.
How the Hippies Saved Physics
July 04, 2012
Dr. David Kaiser, author of the book "How the Hippies Saved Physics"
talks about how the culture of the 1970's influenced physics, and
brought the philosophical exploration of quantum mechanics back into
June 13, 2012
A single sheet of paper is easy to tear, but why, then, do crumpled balls of newspaper work as cushioning in packing boxes? Physicists are studying this unique architecture that maximizes the inherent strength of paper.
June 06, 2012
Jim Ottaviani writes comic books (or graphic novels) about famous scientists including Richard Feynman, Niels Bohr, and those involved in the Manhattan Project.
NASA's Super Black Material
May 09, 2012
Light noise can make it difficult for Astronomers to see the objects they want to study. To help this, engineers have created a material that absorbs 99.8% of incoming light.
Curling Plant Roots
April 25, 2012
Jesse Silverberg is a physicists studying the way plant roots curl. His research contributes to a larger effort to understand how plants live and grow in unusual environments, like sandy or depleted soil. With the booming global population and the rising demand for food, this kind of research could find its way to your refrigerator very soon.
Naming the Elements
April 18, 2012
Ever wonder how Argon got it's name? Calla Cofield explores how the elements came to be named some very strange names.
March 28, 2012
Some of the world's greatest chefs have been lecturing at Harvard to share the science of food with the world.
March 21, 2012
Soft robots are robots controlled by humans but made of materials that are soft. These robots are so gentle, they can even pick up a mouse.
Physics of Curly Hair
March 07, 2012
Did you know that there is a lot of physics that goes into making
animated hair look realistic? Today we chat with MIT graduate student
Jay Miller who studies how a single hair curls. But this research goes
way beyond animation; it turns out you can apply these same principles
to a whole bunch of stuff, like the flagella on bacteria and very long
Butterlfly IR sensors
February 22, 2012
The Morpho Sulkowsky butterfly uses its flashy iridescent wings to
attract attention, but humans could use those wings in applications
ranging from homeland security to medical imaging. Researchers at the
General Electric Global Research Center attached carbon nanotubes to
real Morpho butterfly wings, and used the resulting structures as
infrared (IR) light sensors, which have applications in medicine,
science, environmental sustainability and the military, to name a few.
Self Organizing Patterns
December 14, 2011
Researchers have found a way to hide secrete messages inside
self-organizing patterns. Self-organizing patterns include zebra
stripes, flocks of birds, and termite colonies, to name a few. These
examples might seem biological, but it is physicists who study the
science of self organizing patterns -- and sometimes hide top secret
messages in them.
September 14, 2011
10 years after the towers fell the reflecting pools are about to open to commemorate this tragic event. Join Calla Cofield as she reflects on the physics of the falling towers and lessons for future presidents.
Coffee Ring Physics
August 11, 2011
Coffee Ring Physics
April 27, 2011
Scientists are using carbon nanotubes to detect cancer cells in the bloodstream. The nanotube device is about the size of a dime and could provide a low cost and portable way to test for cancer.
February 09, 2011
Engineers at Duke and Harvard Universities are working on a new technology that could eventually administer medical drugs to patients
via a very small sponge that squishes up under the force of a magnetic
International Year of Chemistry
January 26, 2011
It's the start of the International Year of Chemistry, and it's always good to start with the basics. What is chemistry, and how does it relate to physics?
Glowing Snail Shells
January 12, 2011
These shells glow! Learn what makes these snails glow and why they glow in this podcast.
December 08, 2010
Most of the colors we see everyday arise from chemicals like dyes. Unlike these colors, iridescence arises from structure. Iridescent objects change color depending on the angle that light hits the object. Scientists have been able to create this iridescent structure in glass.
The Granular Gripper Gizmo
November 10, 2010
Soft robots? You heard right. Scientists at the University of Chicago demonstrate a new example of soft robotics, with their "bean bag gripper." Based on the physics of granular materials, this robotic gripper picks up delicate and oddly shaped objects by gently molding to them, then locking in place.
October 20, 2010
Researchers at the University of Maryland College Park, announced a new record for the fastest spinning object, graphene.
New Years Physics Resolutions Part 2
January 23, 2009
In this podcast we describe some of the major experiments and concepts that physicists hope to resolve this year. This is part 2 of 3.
Whale Flipper Bumps
October 02, 2008
Why are humpback whales more agile in the water than other whales? Scientists discovered that the bumps on humpback flippers decrease water turbulence. This allows the humpback whales to tilt their flippers up and achieve greater lift over other whales and hence gives more maneuverability.
September 21, 2012
First-ever study aims to help in developing improved child helmets.
DIY Robot Blocks
September 18, 2012
Roboticists have created multi-functional toy blocks that teach the basics of robot-building to kids.
Touchscreen Door Knobs
September 13, 2012
A new technique called Touché can transform door knobs into multi-touch devices
March 26, 2012
Soil scientists are using a non-toxic chemical at construction sites to remove dirt from muddy stormwater before it reaches streams.
Detecting Dangerous Roads
March 05, 2012
Atmospheric scientists and engineers created an advanced sensor system that can be embedded into the pavement of a road and remotely monitor the surface to more accurately determine the conditions of that road. Lasers are used to monitor the road’s surface temperature and transmit the information to a remote computer. Data such as this, combined with information from weather stations along the road, helps maintenance personnel make more accurate decisions about what types of de-icing chemicals to use, how many snowplows are ideal and how long it would take to clear the road.
K-Team's Medical Materials
February 06, 2012
Chemical and bioengineers are working in a unique, interdisciplinary lab to find technologies that address big medical needs. For example, they are studying the sticky quality of gecko feet for use in a special adhesive that could be used after a variety of procedures to prevent bleeding or leaking. The researchers are also studying how to program cells to help more of them survive during bone marrow and stem cell transplants, among other innovations.
January 23, 2012
Materials Scientists Make Portable, Circuits with Special Pen and Conducting Ink
December 19, 2011
Plant Pathologists Consider Switch Grass for Biofuel Crop, Manipulate Genes for More Effective Yield
Candy Corn Space Soap
October 31, 2011
No, this isn't how astronauts trick-or-treat, but it is an interesting and fun way to eat your candy. In this video Don Pettit explains how soap works using candy corn.
October 17, 2011
A diode is an object that conducts electric current in only one direction. Powering a diode with an alternating current (AC) electric field causes the diode in this video to pump water over its surface, propelling it back and forth on the water surface. Modifying the AC field causes the diode to change direction.
Radioactive Water: Tea Bags To The Rescue
September 05, 2011
Materials scientists created a biodegradable foam that works like a gooey sponge to filter out salt, heavy metals and even radioactive materials. One liter of the foam can make 100 liters of contaminated water safe for drinking. As easy to use as a tea bag, the new substance could provide clean water for victims of natural disasters.
July 11, 2011
Chemical engineers make electronics' future flexible with a new material.
Building Better Bridges
June 27, 2011
As many bridges decay around the world, engineers consider how to build better bridges by studying special materials to help strengthen bridges.
Vacuuming Up Oil
May 09, 2011
Environmental scientists created a more efficient and safer way to clean up oil spills, using the principles of density, buoyancy, and suction.
Soap Free Suds
April 25, 2011
Materials scientists developed a clear coating that can be applied to a washable, nonporous surface and eliminate the need to use soap to clean it off. The coating is simply sprayed on, and when a substance like oil comes into contract with the surface, it responds accordingly to repel the oil and make it easier to remove. Add some water, and the surface rinses clean without soap.
Robots Reading Autistic Kids' Minds
March 14, 2011
Engineers designed a robot that interacts with autistic children through a ball toss game to learn more about what triggers anxiety and tension in these patients. The robot reads the patient's mood through a series of sensors that record skin temperature, heart rate and muscle movements. The robot moves a hoop at a certain rate, while the child attempts to throw a ball through. The system determines how the child is responding to the game and changes the difficulty level by varying the speed at which the hoop oscillates.
February 07, 2011
Oncologic orthopedic surgeons are sparing young victims of bone cancer from repeated invasive surgery by placing extendable implants in place of real bone to stop the cancer from spreading. Because children are still growing when the actual bone is removed, they would have to undergo several invasive surgeries to replace a typical implant with larger sizes. The extendable implant uses a magnet to gradually elongate the leg without pain, incisions or drugs.
Secrets of Snowflakes
January 10, 2011
Mathematicians used mathematical equations to create a computer model that simulates the growth of snowflake crystals. The simulations closely mimic snowflakes found in nature. The model could help scientists better understand how various types of snowflake shapes in the clouds affect the amount of water reaching the ground.
January 03, 2011
Materials research engineers are studying natural pink diamonds to determine what it is that makes them pink. Researchers are using specialized equipment to study the color on a microscopic scale, and have thus far discovered that while the overall diamond appears pink, it is actually a clear stone with pink stripes. Those stripes can be seen if the stone is cut a certain way, and each pink stripe has certain defects that cause the entire diamond to appear pink.
GPS Tracks Asthma Attacks
December 20, 2010
Epidemiologists designed an asthma inhaler equipped with a compact GPS tracking system to learn when and where attacks are happening for asthma sufferers, with the hope of finding out why. Researchers are able to take this information and provide the users with feedback about the frequency of their inhaler use, along with suggestions to manage their asthma better. Sufferers can become more aware of their asthma triggers and take proper measures to avoid them.
Allergy-Free/Asthma-Free Green Home
November 15, 2010
Builders designed and constructed an allergy-free, asthma-friendly, and green home that is fully sustainable. Nearly all of the materials used to construct the home were recycled, from the wood in the flooring and stairs, to the locally purchased cabinets and cork floors. To make the home asthma-friendly and allergy-free, builders used recycled tile and concrete, avoiding pressed wood- which contains harmful chemicals, irritating the nose and throat.
Inside a Lamborghini Lab
November 08, 2010
Lamborghini Materials scientists at the Nation's only Lamborghini Lab are using unique methods to study the safety, fuel efficiency and speed of the cars. New materials intended for performance cars are just as stiff and strong as the steel used in most, non-sports cars, but are five times lighter. A lighter car means more power with fewer emissions.
Dinosaurs Turn Into Works of Art!
October 27, 2010
Paleohistologists, using the principles of polarized light, are winning awards for their unique photographs of dinosaur fossils as seen under a microscope. To collect the images, researchers remove an ultra-thin slice of fossilized dinosaur bone from an entire sample. Using a polarizer to align the light as it shines through the slice reveals an array of unique colors. The final image appears more like art than science, but researchers also gather a lot of information about the animal.
Robots in the Classroom
October 18, 2010
Learning to write can be challenging and even more frustrating when people can’t understand what you’ve written. Rehabilitation scientists designed a table-top robot to help kids improve their handwriting. A robotic arm, equipped with a pen, guides the user's hand through the movements of writing words repeatedly until the student can write legibly on their own.
Submerged In Oil
October 11, 2010
Physical oceanographers and geophysicists are using a robotic submarine to study the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill in order to find how much oil is hidden beneath the surface. The submarine, a machine engineered to manipulate density and fitted with sensors to detect depth, location and methane levels traveled one mile below the surface and came within three miles of the spill, sampling the water for analysis.
Green Wheel For Eco-Cyclists
October 04, 2010
Architects and civil engineers designed a bicycle wheel equipped with a battery and motor to seamlessly replace the rear wheel of any standard bike. The battery allows one type of matter to convert into another, thus converting one form of energy into another and making each hill climb easier an easier.
New Roofs Put Money In Your Pocket
September 27, 2010
As summer comes to a close and the final heat waves of the season begin, energy conservation continues to be at the forefront of many people’s minds. Mechanical engineers are designing a roof and attic insulation system that uses the properties of phase change and insulation to create a material that absorbs heat and infrared radiation during the day and then releases it into the atmosphere at night, helping keep the inside of your house cool.
Cleaner, Greener Metals
June 10, 2010
Metallurgists created a cleaner and safer alternative to chrome that is equally durable, providing a solution to the environmentally harmful processes of both making chrome and disposing of it.
The new coating is made by dipping metal into a mix of nickel and tungsten atoms. An electrical pulse is sent through the mix, causing the atoms to adhere to the metal, or "plate" the surface. The electrical current is pulsed according to the pattern chosen by the researchers.
Creating Science Masterpieces
May 31, 2010
Materials science and engineering students coincidentally created microscopic art out of particles of pollen they are studying.
Science of Speed
December 18, 2009
Fluid Dynamics Engineers Help Potential Olympic Swimmers with Water Flow Technology
Meet the Hexapod Robot
September 28, 2009
Matt Bunting is an Electrical Engineering student at the University of Arizona. He built his first robot when he was 11 years old. In this video he demonstrates his six legged robot known as a hexapod. He began building this hexapod when he was still in high school. It is controlled by a wireless Playstation controller with motion sensitivity.
Oh, and he also wrote the background music.
Reducing Your Lead Footprint
May 15, 2009
Materials scientists created a lead-free piezoelectric material to replace the current one used in electronics that contains up to 40 percent lead. To make the material tiny samples of bismuth ferrite and samarium ferrite are formed into puck shape pieces. A laser then fragments the pucks into different molecules and chemicals, creating a mist that is coated onto a chip.
Roboclam to the Rescue
May 08, 2009
Mechanical Engineers designed a robotic clam to mimic the digging motion of the razor clam in nature.
April 24, 2009
Acoustical engineers rubberize roads to quiet highway noise.
Cars Powered by the Sun
April 03, 2009
Arts, science, and engineering students are driven by solar energy to the finish line.
Prosthetics that Grow
March 13, 2009
Doctors use electromagnetism to heat and melt plastic, which allows a spring to expand and lengthen a bone prosthesis.
February 13, 2009
Engineers have created a strong but lightweight isotruss bike using carbon fibers.
Dangers of Going Green
November 26, 2008
Industrial hygienists suggest watching out for mold when going green.
Gamers Saving Lives
November 19, 2008
Biochemists and computer scientists collaborate to create protein-folding computer game.
Moving in the ICU
November 17, 2008
Pulmonologists invent device to help intensive care patients walk safely.
Science of Origami
September 26, 2008
Mathematicians and Artists Use Algorithms to Make Complicated Paper Sculptures
September 03, 2008
Computer and Security Scientists Add New Technology to Redesigned Five Dollar Bill
Crash Test Dummies Keep Kids Safe
September 01, 2008
Biomechanical and safety engineers added a more lifelike abdomen to models representing children between the ages of four and eight.
August 14, 2008
Dr. Greene is a professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a woman interested in science in the 70s she overcame many barriers to become a physicist. Learn about her life long passion for science.
Sniffing Out Bombs
July 01, 2008
A tiny sensor that monitors electrical conductivity allows scientists to detect the presence of explosives. The sensor measures the conductivity of two different thin films, one made of a cobalt compound and another made of a copper compound. When reacting to most fumes, the two films respond in similar ways, but when exposed to hydrogen peroxide the films show a difference in electrical conductivity. When the sensor indicates this difference, that means that trace amounts of hydrogen peroxide are present, a common ingredient of explosives.
Nanotechnology - Cleaning up our Water
April 01, 2008
Chemical engineers created nanoparticles out of gold and palladium to break down pollutants in groundwater. Adding the particles to groundwater converts dangerous contaminants like trichloroethylene into non-toxic compounds.
December 01, 2007
Chemists have added polymers to a new paint that dries faster and requires no second coat or primer. The paint uses long polymer chains to surround pigments, which makes it easier for latex spheres to bond to it. That advance makes the color cover the wall more completely. Additionally, this technique means that the paint requires almost zero volatile organic compounds, which contribute to odor and also smog.
Creating 21st Century Video Games
November 01, 2007
A computer science student created an updated form of the classic video game Pong. The ball appears to move unpredictably, but is actually governed by algorithms that analyze the fluid dynamics of actual plasmas. Careful programming that considers the plasmaýs mathematical properties allows players to activate a vacuum effect or plasma jet that moves the ball in physically realistic ways as well.
August 01, 2007
Chemical Engineers developed a way to break down plastic bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate -- or PET, and recycle it back into high value uses like more soda bottles, water bottles, beer bottles. Inside the recycling plant's extruder, water is removed from ground up plastic. Then, the plastic is melted and chemically broken down -- in a process called depolymerization. The breakthrough in this process is to be able to go from chips of this plastic to the recycled material in about five minutes.
June 01, 2007
Carbonados, black carbon formations that resemble diamonds, have been show to have a chemical spectrum that indicates they originated before the formation of the Earth; their high hydrogen content suggests they are from a star-like environment. Since this carbon is only found in two locations on our planet, it may have arrived via an asteroid.
March 01, 2007
New and improved technology has now made growing diamonds cost-competitive with mining them. Diamond-making machines subject a graphite-carbon core and a diamond seed at a pressure of 850,000 PSI for four days, recreating conditions similar to those 100 miles below the earth's surface. The lab-grown diamonds that come out are optically, chemically and physically identical to those that occur in nature.
Ice, Ice, Baby!
February 01, 2007
When droplets of melted snow drip down an icicle, they release small amounts of heat as they freeze. Heated air travels upwards and helps slow down the growth of the icicle's top, while the tip is growing rapidly. Knowledge of the mathematical equations that govern icicle growth -- the same that apply to stalactites -- could help in the prevention of icicle formation on power lines.
Crime Alert! Molding Fingerprints
January 01, 2007
Photonic crystals -- materials with precise patterns of gaps that make them reflect only selected wavelengths of light -- could soon replace the traditional ink-based fingerprinting. In a new silica-based, photonic-crystal material, the spacing of the gaps changes in response to pressure applied. Corresponding changes in its color reveal fingerprints with high precision -- not only the ridges in the skin, but also the depth of the ridges, the shape of the finger, and the mechanical properties of the skin.
Liquid Body Armor
August 01, 2006
Rheologists have created a new way of bullet-proofing clothes using shear-thickening fluids. Fabric treated with shear-thickening granular suspensions can turn soft material into solid protective gear when struck by a projectile. The treatment can strengthen Kevlar to produce lighter, more comfortable bullet-proof vests, or it can be used to turn extend the bullet-proof protection to ordinary fabric.
Lights of the Future
February 01, 2006
Thanks to advances in physics, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) will soon move from traffic lights and electronics panels to home lighting, bringing dramatic energy savings, adjustable colors for ambiance, and light-shining furnishings.
January 01, 2006
When moisture condenses on a cool surface, droplets can form that are the right size to scatter light, fogging up glass. A new polymer coating draws droplets into nanopores and transforms them into a transparent sheet, improving vision.
September 01, 2005
Sponges are the homes of colonies of tiny marine animals, and wonders of miniaturized engineering. They employ complex structural arrangements, the strongest glasses known to man, and even microscopic fiber optics that glow in the dark. Scientists are trying to figure how to reproduce some of their tricks, such as producing glass at low temperatures.
September 01, 2005
Preventing hospital infections -- from such stubborn bugs as Staphylococcus aureus -- could get a little easier with a new non-toxic, silver-based material. Used in coating, it helps keep hospital air ducts bacterium- and fungus-free. The material is also used in a number of products including athletic footwear, door hardware, pens and business supplies.
Screens of the Future
July 01, 2005
Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) are plastic-based materials that are able to emit light. Engineers are beginning to make displays out of OLEDs by spraying the materials on a surface, the way an ink-jet printer works. The new OLED displays promise to provide a cheaper, brighter, less power-hungry alternative to liquid-crystal displays -- the ones commonly used in laptop computers and cell phones.
New Combat Helmet
July 01, 2005
Wearing a helmet can make it hard to figure which direction sounds -- such as gunfire -- is coming from. Soldiers in Iraq are using a new helmet, called the Advanced Combat Helmet, which is padded internally to prevent sound from reverberating and masking its direction of origin.
February 01, 2005
To make bridges last longer and less expensive to maintain, engineers are working to incorporate glass into bridge design. Researchers say these longer-lasting glass-based bridges can withstand earthquakes better, and are faster to build, in addition to having high strength and durability.
Frostless Heat Pump
February 01, 2005
A new invention, the "frostless" heat pump, produces warmer air than a conventional heat pump by raising the temperature on the device's outer coils. This prevents frost on the coils while heat is suctioned more efficiently into the home.
Underwater Weather Watchers
January 01, 2005
Researchers are now collecting valuable information about ocean weather from a fleet of cost-effective instruments called Argo floats. Using hydraulic fluid in internal and external sacs, each float sinks about a mile and a half underwater. Every ten days, the float rises to the surface and transmits information on the ocean temperature and salt content. Researchers hope Argo will improve the ability to forecast the paths of hurricanes and where they will make their landfall.
A Better Golf Game
January 01, 2005
Researchers have designed a golf ball that tends to fly straighter even when a putter unintentionally "slices" it which ordinarily causes it to curve to one side. The new ball has a hollow, metal core that shifts the ball's mass -- or weight -- to the outside. This helps the ball spin less and fly straighter as it sails through the air.
Surviving Hard Hits
January 01, 2005
Engineers have developed more protective padding for football players. Unlike traditional padding, the new putty-like material can be molded into protective gear to fit a player's body and better guard against injury. The squashy material redistributes the force from a hit evenly through the material to lessen the impact on a player's body.