April 28/May 5, 2008


Pond scum ethanol

A blue-green algae that's genetically modified to include genes from a cellulose-producing bacteria promises to turn pond scum into an efficient, inexpensive source of feedstock for producing ethanol. The algae lives on sunlight, and the cellulose it produces is more easily converted to ethanol than the cellulose from plant matter. (Transgenic Expression of Gluconacetobacter Xylinus Strain ATCC 53582 Cellulose Synthase Genes in the Cyanobacterium Synechococcus Leopoliensis Strain UTCC, Cellulose, published online April 12, 2008)

Off-the-shelf nanoparticles

A library of more than 1,200 nanoparticles opens the way for researchers to select particles for delivering drugs, matching particle properties to drug and target disease rather than building a nanoparticle from scratch. Some of the library's nanoparticles are well suited for delivering the small pieces of RNA used to turn off specific genes in RNA interference, a new technique that shows promise for treating cancer and other diseases. (A Combinatorial Library of Lipid-like Materials for Delivery of RNAi Therapeutics, Nature Biotechnology, published online April 27, 2008)

Quartz keeps nanotubes in line

A recipe for growing single-walled carbon nanotubes on quartz surfaces yields relatively dense arrays of long, parallel nanotubes. The technique could lead to ways of mass producing carbon nanotube arrays for building new types of computer chips and other electronics. (Growth of High-Density Parallel Arrays of Long Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes on Quartz Substrates, Journal of the American Chemical Society, April 23, 2008)

More accurate ions

A prototype quantum computer made from a pair of trapped ions achieves a fidelity of 99.3 percent for logic operations involving entangling the two quantum bits. The performance is a key step toward reaching the 99.99 percent fidelity required for practical quantum computing. Quantum computers promise to be much faster than ordinary computers for certain tasks like cracking secret codes. (Towards Fault-tolerant Quantum Computing with Trapped Ions, Nature Physics, published online April 27, 2008)

Opaque ghosts

The technique of taking pictures by pointing a digital camera at the light source shining on an object rather than the object itself, dubbed ghost imaging, extends to opaque objects. The method works by splitting a weak beam of light and using a photon counter to detect photons bouncing off of the object. Photons that are paired get split, with one of the pair going to the camera and the other the object. The detector signals the camera to record only photons that hit at that moment. The positions of the recorded photons correspond to the positions of photons that hit the object, allowing an image to form. Ghost imaging could lead to new forms of x-ray imaging. (Ghost-Imaging Experiment by Measuring Reflected Photons, Physical Review A, April 2008)

Lighting virtual fog

Virtual heavy metal bands, rejoice! A more efficient version of software that accurately simulates light shining in fog, smoke and clouds means that realistic special effects could be more widely available for use in movies and video games. The technique makes it easier to calculate some aspects of traditionally computer-intensive ray tracing software. (The Beam Radiance Estimate for Volumetric Photon Mapping, Eurographics 2008, Hersonissos, Crete, Greece, April 14-18, 2008)


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April 25, 2008
Sulfur stinks
The idea of spewing sulfur particles into the stratosphere to counter global warming just seems wrong on the face of it.

April 24, 2008
Evolution, the software

April 22, 2008
The brain knows

April 19, 2008
As Pollock as you wannabe

"Physics is to the rest of science what machine tools are to engineering. A corollary is that science places power in our hands which can be used for good or ill. Technology has been abused in this way throughout the ages from gunpowder to atomic bombs."
- John Pendry, Imperial College London


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