July’s edition of Physics World includes an in-depth feature by three Israeli researchers, Marianna Khorzov and David Andelman, from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Tel Aviv University, and Rafi Shikler, from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Ben Gurion University, about exciting developments in the field.
For a long time, plastic was thought of as an insulating material that could not conduct electricity, but ground-breaking research in the 1970s proved that some plastics could do so. Now, more than thirty years later some of the potential applications of these breakthrough materials – electronic billboards, flexible laptops, high-definition television screens only one centimetre thick – are coming to light.
Plastic-based transistors and organic light-emitting displays are set to shake the electronics market. Transistors, the fundamental building block in modern electronic devices, are traditionally made of silicon. Plastic-based transistors however are easier and cheaper to manufacture than their silicon equivalent. And because plastic is flexible, we could soon see ultrathin, flexible laptops, for example, that would be impossible to make from silicon.
Conventional light-emitting displays, used in televisions, iPods and digital watches, are rigid, expensive and complex to manufacture. Organic light-emitting displays, based on plastic electronics engineering, are easier to manufacture, more flexible and, as an added bonus, also consume less energy. This is why Sony, Samsung and Kodak are all devoting time and money to developing them.
Other exciting developments are likely to be in the field of bionics, including the development of materials sensitive but flexible enough to replicate skin, which could be used by robots in situations where a sense of touch is crucial.
The researchers write, “We expect that, for many applications, these materials will gradually replace silicon and metals, and they may even make possible entirely new technologies, particularly in the field of bionics, which seeks to link up technology with biological systems.”
•Symmetry and the world around us – could a bizarre 248D symmetry group really help us towards a theory of everything?
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Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.
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Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur
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The quality of materials often depends on the manufacturing process. In casting and welding, for example, the rate at which melts solidify and the resulting microstructure of the alloy is important. With metallic foams as well, it depends on exactly how the foaming process takes place. To understand these processes fully requires fast sensing capability. The fastest 3D tomographic images to date have now been achieved at the BESSY II X-ray source operated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.
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