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Packing hundreds of sensors into a single optical fiber for use in harsh environments

By fusing together the concepts of active fiber sensors and high-temperature fiber sensors, a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh has created an all-optical high-temperature sensor for gas flow measurements that operates at record-setting temperatures above 800 degrees Celsius. The technology is expected to find industrial sensing applications in harsh environments ranging from deep geothermal drill cores to the interiors of nuclear reactors to the cold vacuum of space missions, and it may eventually be extended to many others.

Light in, light out: perovskite materials break the rules

Perovskite materials are the newest contender for breaking the silicon ceiling in solar cell technology. But they don’t just absorb light. Researchers at Cambridge University have been investigating how perovskites work by exciting the material with light and monitoring energy absorption at incredibly fast timescales, taking ‘snapshots’ a few quadrillionths of a second apart. The work shows that perovskites also emit light like a laser, opening up an entirely new field of applications.

Let there be light: Chemists develop magnetically responsive liquid crystals

Chemists at the University of California, Riverside have constructed liquid crystals with optical properties that can be instantly and reversibly controlled by an external magnetic field. When an electric field is applied, the molecules rotate and align themselves along the field direction, resulting in a rapid tuning of transmitted light. The research paves the way for novel display applications relying on the instantaneous and contactless nature of magnetic manipulation—such as signage, posters, writing tablets, and billboards.

Vacuum-MOSFET transistor could one day replace traditional silicon
Researchers at the NASA Ames Research Center have been working for the past few years to develop vacuum-channel transistors. The research is still at an early stage, but the prototypes constructed show that this novel device holds extraordinary promise. Vacuum-channel transistors could work 10 times as fast as ordinary silicon transistors and may eventually be able to operate at terahertz frequencies, which have long been beyond the reach of any solid-state device. And they are considerably more tolerant of heat and radiation.

Cambridge team breaks superconductor world record

A world record that has stood for more than a decade has been broken by a team led by University of Cambridge engineers, harnessing the equivalent of three tons of force inside a golf ball-sized sample of material that is normally as brittle as fine china. The researchers managed to ‘trap’ a magnetic field with a strength of 17.6 Tesla—roughly 100 times stronger than the field generated by a typical fridge magnet—in a high temperature gadolinium barium copper oxide superconductor, beating the previous record by 0.4 Tesla.

Hydrogen breakthrough could be a game-changer for the future of car fuels

A new discovery by scientists at the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council offers a viable solution to the challenges of hydrogen storage and cost by using ammonia as a clean and secure energy source. When the components of ammonia are separated (a technique known as cracking) they form one part nitrogen and three parts hydrogen. Many catalysts can effectively crack ammonia to release the hydrogen, but the best ones are very expensive precious metals. This new method is different and involves two simultaneous chemical processes rather than using a catalyst, and can achieve the same result at a fraction of the cost.

Tofu ingredient could revolutionise solar panel manufacture

The chemical used to make tofu and bath salts could also replace a highly toxic and expensive substance used to make solar cells, a University of Liverpool study published in the journal Nature has revealed. Cadmium chloride is currently a key ingredient in solar cell technology used in millions of solar panels around the world. Scientists found that cadmium chloride can be replaced with magnesium chloride, which is extracted from seawater and is already used in products such as tofu, bath salts, and for de-icing roads.