Background image: Molten glass. Credit: Michael Germann;

Peter and I thought it would be fun to share our five favorite posts from 2012. Finding that choosing only five was nigh impossible, I decided to sort my picks into three categories, which instantly grew my budget to 15 stories!

External forces
Advances in science and engineering are subject to forces beyond physics, chemistry, and mathematics, such as politics, culture, history, and more.

USPTO issues flurry of new rules to implement ‘America Invents Act’
Archaic US patent rules were thrown out with adoption of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. New rules, though, mean changes in the strategy of innovation.

Data drives engineering of ceramics; workshop asks ‘how well?’
Computational approaches to materials engineering are only as good as the data they consume and digest. A DOD-sponsored workshop evaluated the state-of-affairs for electronic access to ceramic property data and the attendant challenges and opportunities.

Science research drives economic growth, but it’s expensive and slow
What role should governments take in investing in basic research, and how does a nation’s R&D investment impact GDP? There is nothing like an election year—in the US and abroad—to draw attention to what governments should spend money on versus what they do spend money on.

Chance favors the prepared mind," says the proverb. Jim Ashburn discovered high-temperature superconductivity in 1987 when he had some well-timed bad luck. Credit: UA-Huntsville.

“Chance favors the prepared mind,” said Louis Pasteur famously. Jim Ashburn discovered high-temperature superconductivity in 1987 when he followed up on some well-timed bad luck. Credit: UA-Huntsville.

Video: Grand challenges in ceramic science—Preliminary findings from workshop
Researchers go bravely where others cannot or dare not. A group of the nation’s top ceramic science researchers convened to tease out the largest scientific challenges that can be addressed with ceramic materials.

Historic January 1987: YBCO superconductors discovered and Super Bowl XXI
This story about the discovery of high-temperature YBCO superconductors shows that research breakthroughs are often the progeny of systematic, well-executed fundamental research… and serendipity.

Strictly science
I’m an unabashed materials geek, and these were some of my favorite super-sciency stories—with the qualification that I mostly write about science that intrigues me, so this is a lot like choosing a favorite child.

Understanding the ‘between’ spaces: Interfacial phases and solid-state sintering
The formation and stability of interfacial phases in the solid state drives properties, so understanding how interfaces form and the thermodynamics driving them is of paramount importance.

High-alumina optical fibers really move the data, but are not easy to make. Credit: Dragic, UIUC.

Mullite-like mixed oxides may replace platinum for catalyzing diesel pollution
Manganese-oxide compounds with the mullite crystal structure may one day displace platinum as the catalyst agent in automobile catalytic converters.

High-alumina optical fibers get around Brillouin scattering limitations
Ever wonder how data gets to your smart phone or laptop so fast? A group of glass scientists is working on the next generation on optical fibers that will move more data, faster, and with more accuracy.

High critical current density doped pnictide superconductors
Harnessing the promise of high-temperature superconductivity requires a deep understanding of the physics of magnetism and the influences of composition and microstructure. Plus, what’s not to love about the word “pnictide?”

Heat transfer—two new studies look at effects of interface bonding, surface roughness
The digital age is generating some very sophisticated heat transfer challenges. How exactly does heat egress from a surface, and how can the mechanism be engineered?

Useful metrics for comparing new energy storage technologies
Measuring is an essential experimental activity. However, scientists and engineers must continually ask themselves the question, “Am I measuring something meaningful and useful?”

And this last group of five was just fun to write about.

Don’t wait in line for coffee: How to know where the business opportunity is
A reflection on business, opportunity, finding the way, and waiting in line.

Oldest known pottery dates back 20,000 years and may have changed the course of human history
The earliest ceramic engineers designed pots for cooking and brewing, proof that since time immemorial, engineers bring the life of the party. Literally.

Scenery and science mixed will at a biomineralization conference in Ringberg Castle in Bavaria, Germany. Credit: ACerS.

Friday fun video—Gravity-defying Slinky
Adulthood does not mean toys become irrelevant. This video shows that scientists never stop learning the lessons that educational toys can teach.

Technical ceramics and art ceramics—only a brain apart
In the world of ceramics, is there a line between art and science? Yes, sort of—and no, not really. The American Ceramic Society serves the professional needs of engineers, scientists, studio artists, and hobbyists.

A castle vacation, poster session included
An October vacation to Germany included a conference at a Bavarian castle and the opportunity to talk shop with some of the best minds in the world working on biomineralization.

Were you counting? Me neither. Did you have a favorite story or topic that we covered? Let us know!

Best wishes for a Happy New Year!