Looking for new energy solutions, scientists are increasingly embracing the idea of cold fusion, once considered a junk science along the lines of alchemy. "Cold fusion" describes the nuclear fusion of atoms at close to room temperatures, as opposed to the epic temperatures at which nuclei fuse inside stars. If realized on a practical scale, it could provide the world with a virtually limitless source of energy.
If pictures are worth a thousand words, then they must be worth at least a couple of hundred data points. Plenty of scientific concepts are better displayed with graphics than with texts, and every year the National Science Foundation and Science Magazine highlight the best science visualizations of the year.
The 2009 winners represent a diverse range of fields, from medicine to math to statistics. However, they all manage to distill highly technical scientific concepts into easily understandable pictures, films, and interactive creations.
As part of the cosmetic industry's attempt to shift away from animal testing for makeup, L'Oreal and the Hurel Corporation have designed a new chip that simulates the behavior of skin cells, eliminating the need to test the allergic response of lab animals to cosmetics.
The invention of plastics in the mid-1800s changed human civilization as profoundly as our earlier mastery of fire, bronze, and steel. Unfortunately, the environmental and health effects of plastic offer a significant downside to such a useful and affordable material. Now, scientists at the University of Tokyo, Japan, have developed a clay-based hydrogel that they hope will perform the same functions as plastic, but do so without endangering people or the planet.
Many next-gen supercomputers try to imitate how brain cells communicate and build digital versions of neural networks. Now the BBC brings word of the most ambitious project yet -- a "wet computer" that will literally simulate neurons and signal processing on the chemical level.
Rounding out the 2009 science Nobel Prizes are Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas A. Steitz, and Ada E. Yonath, who will receive the prize in chemistry for their work on an atomic-scale map of the ribosome.
Ribosomes are the cellular organelle responsible for assembling amino acids into proteins. If DNA is the blueprint, ribosomes are the construction workers. Ribosomes themselves are composed of a combination of RNA and specialized proteins.
Here at PopSci, we love when our leading-edge reporting on the seemingly unbelievable, futuristic developments in science and tech end up, well, becoming reality. We reported three and a half years ago on d3o, the elastic polymer that's flexible at rest but stiffens instantly in response to an impact, first found in a soft winter beanie that protects like a helmet. Now, it can be found in 107 products made by 22 different companies, ranging from iPod cases to polo kneepads.
German researchers at the FLASH facility in Hamburg decided to roast a piece of aluminum foil with a 10-million-gigawatt X-ray laser. They heated the foil so hot that it became a new matter state: transparent aluminum. It's also believed to be the same state of matter that comprises the core of planets, such as Jupiter.
When we talked with element 112's discoverer, Sigurd Hofmann, on the significance of making a permanent mark on the periodic table, he told us he wanted a moniker that recognized a famous scientist while avoiding the flag-waving nationalism normally associated with the process. Today, Hofmann and his team made their decision public.
Good bye element 112 and ununbium, its placeholder name. Hello "Copernicium."