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[Image above] Credit: NIST

Discovery changes how scientists examine rarest elements of Periodic Table

A little-known element called californium is making big waves in how scientists look at the periodic table. The elements at the end of the periodic table are some of the heaviest and least understood chemical elements on the planet, and information about them may prove crucial in the future as we look at how to store or recycle used nuclear fuel, among other things. According to new research by a Florida State University professor, californium is what’s known to be a transitional element, meaning it links one part of the Periodic Table of Elements to the next.

A glass fiber that brings light to a standstill

Light is an extremely useful tool for quantum communication, but it has one major disadvantage: it usually travels at the speed of light and cannot be kept in place. A team of scientists at the Vienna University of Technology has now demonstrated that this problem can be solved in the glass fiber networks we are already using today. By coupling atoms to glass fibers, light was slowed down to a speed of 180 km/h. The team even managed to bring the light to a complete stop and to retrieve it again later.

Cobalt film a clean-fuel find

A cobalt-based thin film serves double duty as a new catalyst that produces both hydrogen and oxygen from water to feed fuel cells, according to scientists at Rice University. The inexpensive, highly porous material invented by the Rice lab of chemist James Tour may have advantages as a catalyst for the production of hydrogen via water electrolysis. A single film far thinner than a hair can be used as both the anode and cathode in an electrolysis device.

New method uses patent data to estimate a technology’s future rate of improvement

Engineers at MIT have devised a formula for estimating how fast a technology is advancing, based on information gleaned from relevant patents. The researchers determined the improvement rates of 28 different technologies, including solar photovoltaics, 3-D printing, fuel-cell technology, and genome sequencing. They searched through the U.S. Patent Office database for patents associated with each domain—more than 500,000 total—by developing a novel method to quickly and accurately select the patents that best represent each technology.

Liquid crystal bubbles experiment arrives at International Space Station

An experiment led by the University of Colorado Boulder arrived at the International Space Station today and will look into the fluid dynamics of liquid crystals in microgravity that may lead to benefits both on Earth and in space. Specifically, the research team is observing the overall motion and merging of microscopic layers that form “smectic islands” on the surface of bubbles. The investigation may shine light on how microgravity affects the properties of liquid crystals.

Poison dart frog inspires new way to de-ice planes

Arizona State University researchers are working to devise a method that would add a coating, inspired by poison dart frogs, to aircraft surfaces that secretes antifreeze to prevent ice formation. The method employs a skin-like bi-layer coating. The inner layer stores antifreeze liquid and the outer porous superhydrophobic layer repels cold rain that could become ice. When the outer layer fails, for example because of condensate or frost accumulation, the inner layer releases antifreeze to prevent ice sheet formation.

Long-sought magnetic mechanism observed in exotic hybrid materials

Scientists have measured the subatomic intricacies of an exotic phenomenon first predicted more than 60 years ago. This so-called van Vleck magnetism is the key to harnessing the quantum quirks of topological insulators—hybrid materials that are both conducting and insulating—and could lead to unprecedented electronics. The collaboration used cutting-edge electron microscopy facilities at Brookhaven Lab to pinpoint this never-before-seen behavior.