My list is much more straightforward than Eileen’s. I find that restraint and discipline comes with age. Mostly. (Eileen adds—See Peter’s fifth story. We’re even!)

Anyway, I crafted my list based on trends, biases, underreporting by commercial news services, murky understanding of two-dimensional phenomena and, well, bad taste. In several cases, the post I picked is just representative of a topic that was covered several times this year.

#1—China edges rare earth exports ceiling upwards, but demand slack continues; new RE extraction method surfaces

Credit: Yahoo Finance

Two or three years ago, much of the science community (not to mention, quite a few folks on the conspiracy fringe) thought that China’s dominance of rare earth production and experts would bring the end of the world, as we know it. Or at least, delay the production of iPhone 7 until late 2013. And, too, a way to boost your 401k (Buy buy buy US rare earth mining company equities plus be a patriot!). And, a lot of industrialized nations thought they were going to climb on the WTO stool to punch China in the eye because the prices weren’t low enough.

But, its funny how things really worked out, and who would have guessed that China now cannot even sell all of what it produces, even at a discount. Much of the world might have been snoozing when rare earth demand suddenly soared, but the recession in the developed world has provided extra time for finding substitutes and trade negotiations.

#2—Fine-tuning: NCSU/NSF group learns how to control phase formation of titanium dioxide at room temperature

Credit: Narayan; NCSU

There are a number of overlapping goals among the ceramic grand challenges, such as oxide electronics, developing new paradigms for understanding interfaces, and predicting heterogeneous microstructures. A lot of interesting work emerged in 2012 to deepen our understanding in these areas and creating new materials with unprecedented functionalities.

The story above is just one example, and it has to do with the work of Jay Narayan’s group and NC State to control and stabilize titanium dioxide in its desirable rutile phase. They even developed a technique that precisely controls the crystalline structure at room temperature in such a way that it won’t change when the temperature fluctuates. This process may be extremely useful in the development of photovoltaic cells, hydrogen production, optical communication technologies, and smart sensor production. Likewise, researchers led by Ho Nyung Lee at Oak Ridge National Lab are exploiting the properties of functional complex-oxide perovskites thin films to engineer “perfect” heterointerfaces. 2013 should be another great year for oxide research.

#3—Healing glass fibers now available for pet and animal treatments

Credit: Rediheal

Credit: Rediheal

Admittedly, it is still difficult for me to believe that the healing powers of borate glass fibers are real. Since I first wrote in 2011 about the ability of these fibers to heal long-festering sores and wounds frequently that frequently bedevil diabetics, I have expected a myth-buster to step forward at any minute. But, they haven’t. On the contrary, the product is starting to find interest among veterinary practices (finding sales in the veterinary marketplace is a well-trod route for novel medical supplies and devices awaiting human testing and FDA approval), where I suspect there will be more risk-taking and use for more extreme applications, such as traumatic wounds and burns. I also suspect that there may be several animal studies that emerge from this work. In the meantime, a second round of human clinical trials is continuing in Missouri, and the results are expected in 2013.

#4—NBC News: Glass cookware complaints in the US on the rise; finds Bulletin story sound

I don’t intend to cover old ground on this topic, and I obviously think this is an interesting story both for engineering reasons and for historical reasons. However, this story is among my top 5 because the legal dimensions of this case are very important to anyone who participates in authoring and publishing scientific research. World Kitchen is suing—absent a scientific or engineering argument—the authors of the Bulletin story, “Shattering Glass Cookware,” and The American Ceramic Society for publishing a reasoned explanation of why soda lime silicate cookware appears to be more prone to thermal failure than borosilicate glass cookware, and, therefore, stating their opinions about its utility. Can a company force a published article to completely “disappear” simply because it doesn’t like the results of an inquiry by veteran glass engineers or their conclusions? The implications are staggering, in my opinion, for technical publishing.

#5—Bill Nye—Science Guy Style

Wait! We didn’t publish a post on this—but we should have!

And, because Psy promises to never perform Gangnam Style live again after New Years Eve, this may be the last time this parody has any relevance. (And, BTW, Bill Nye says he is honored by this version.)