Matter & Energy

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Electricity as a result of converting sunlight into usable energy is fairly straightforward, but, so far, mostly only in theory. This process follows a general hypothesis -- the sun provides all the energy that humanity needs, and more, in the average year. Therefore, capturing this light using equipment such as solar panels could resolve the global 'energy crisis' immediately.

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How does your phone flip into landscape mode or come alive when you pick it up? It has a gyroscope, which is a particular type of sensor that lets electronic devices know which way is 'up!'

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As of February 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that approximately 5.5 million people are bitten by snakes each year, and about 2.7 million contracts a deadly disease called snakebite envenoming. This is an issue in most tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Asia takes the top spot as far as envenoming goes, with 2 million affected annually, most of these individuals are from low- to middle-income countries where healthcare resources are limited.

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Physicists have developed compounds that can ‘record’ the direction of the last magnetic field they have experienced. This property, known as magnetic hysteresis, comes into effect after the substances have been exposed to magnets for an appreciable length of time, and it persists even after the magnetic field has been withdrawn. The property of magnetic hysteresis is interesting from a basic scientific standpoint.

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Molecules, or singular units of substances such as proteins or gases, react to each other through a complex, and finite, set of properties. These include the electrical attributes that may repel or draw one atom away from (or toward) another; electrical charges acting on different chemical bonds, as well as a number of other smaller forces often named after the scientists who discover them (e.g., Pauli or Stark forces). These factors determine how different molecules interact, and, ultimately, build up what we think of as the matter around us.

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Superconductors are something of a holy grail to electronic scientists and engineers. They are materials that conduct electricity in the absence of resistance. This property, while vital to certain components and techniques, is largely responsible for losses and limits to the movement of electrons on which modern automatic, computerized and mechanized devices depend. The ability to produce superconductors that could work in ambient conditions could usher a new revolution in these products, their capabilities, and power, in general.

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Electric cars may seem like an attractive departure from concerns about traditional fossil fuels and the environmental impact their use can impart, not to mention the costs that are involved.

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Nuclear fusion is a concept for power generation that has been around for some time. These days, research and development in this area are done using up-to-date reactors called tokamaks. These installations may provide the data and insights necessary to bring fusion back into the 21st century.

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Hydrogen is a leading contender for the energy source of the future. However, the technology behind its delivery and deployment is nowhere near consumer-level yet. Hydrogen-power scientists are still working out issues to make their solutions safer and more efficient. One of the factors holding hydrogen back is the puzzling inability to get the substance to stay in the storage media intended for it.

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It is fortunate that scientists discovered anti-freeze proteins (AFPs). Otherwise, the way in which insects survive freezing conditions would be an impenetrable mystery to us. Insects lack things such as hair, fur or blubber, therefore, making it impossible for them to live in cold climates without AFPs. These proteins have evolved to prevent lethal ice crystals forming within insect bodies. For a long time, this phenomenon was explained using the ‘anchored clathrate’ theory of water molecule ordering.

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Scotland is a good example of a country that is making a commitment to a future with greener, more sustainable energy. The nation has increased its volume of off-shore wind farms by 37%, recently. However, this investment only means so much in the context of the weather. In calm weather, Scotland may need back-ups in the form of batteries in order to keep constant the current flowing through its grid.

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It seems that diamonds grown in a lab will have many roles to play in the electronics and engineering of the future. This could be because these precious stones contain (necessary) defects, often worked into the diamonds to order.

The defects are created when a non-carbon atom takes the place of a carbon atom in the orderly molecular lattice that normally makes a diamond. Nitrogen vacancies (NVs), for example, have drawn some attention due to their potential in diagnostics, and their ability to emit red light when green light hits them, which has potential analytical value.

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Kirigami is a form of art in which paper is deformed and bent into the desired shape. Originating in Japan, it is similar to origami, with the exception that cutting is also permitted in this discipline.

The principles of kirigami can also be applied to the cutting or impression of patterns into thin layers of metals, most often gold. This has been one of the goals of physicists as the results from this technique can be used to bend light at the nanoscale, and also to prove that such precise work is possible.

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Nuclear fusion was once thought of as the ‘holy grail’ of energy-generation and delivery. This kind of reaction involves the formation of two- or three-atom molecules of pure hydrogen, then pressing these together to form new atoms of helium, most often. Fusion has potentially desirable side-effects, such as the release of energy in the form of heat at astronomical temperatures.

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"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." - Albert Einstein

Scientists have created a tiny drum that can vibrate and stand still, simultaneously. A team of researchers from the UK and Australia has developed a novel technique that could help understand the boundary between the quantum world and our everyday, classical, world.

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Uranium is a heavy metal that is found in nature as U-238 and U-235, and in traces, as U-234. Since the half-life of this element is about 4.5 billion years, it has been useful in determining the age of the Earth. Past research has also indicated that some radioactive isotopes of uranium could possess nuclear properties and cause radiolysis on other planets too.

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If they were asked to think of a material to make solar cells, professionals might be inclined to think of perovskite - a mineral strongly associated with photovoltaics or electronics that are activated by light or store it in the form of energy (mostly as sunlight).

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What do atoms really look like in nature?

We tend to visualize these particles as electrons orbiting a spherical nucleus in defined, concentric shells, like the diagrams seen in many chemistry and physics textbooks.

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There are very few pure elements that have magnetic properties. This limits the options for those in the areas of engineering, manufacturing, and electronics. It may also put pressure on the reserves of those elements known to have magnetism (or ferromagnetism, as it is technically termed) – i.e., iron, nickel, and cobalt.

However, a new paper in Nature Communications has claimed that element ruthenium exhibited these desirable properties in a new experimental conformation.

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Graphene is a material that could serve as the semiconductor of the future. It is a matrix of carbon atoms that exhibits exceptional properties as an electronics component, thanks to its remarkable physicochemical structure.

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