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Tag archives: materials science

Cracking the earthquake lights mystery and out-of-this-world technology

Old photo of earthquake ights taken in Romania

A photograph of streams of lights taken in 1977 near Brasov, Romania, about 100 km from the epicentre of a M 7.2 earthquake. (Courtesy: Seismological Society of America)

By Tushna Commissariat

In case you missed it, I was at the APS March meeting in Denver, Colorado last week and I was blogging about a whole host of interesting talks and sessions that I attended. Although I am back in Bristol now, there were one or two other talks that I thought covered some very interesting physics, so here’s a catch-up.

Slip slidin’ away
Seasoned physicsworld.com readers will remember that earlier this year, we featured a rather intriguing story on the phenomenon of earthquake lights – the mysterious and unpredictable glowing lights that seem to appear before some earthquakes. First documented in the 1600s and seen as recently as the Fukushima earthquake of 2011, the “unidentified glowing objects” add to the long list of possible earthquake precursors, and so are of interest. The study that we wrote about in January looked at 65 well-documented events of such lights and concluded that they may occur thanks to a particular type of geological fault – a subvertical fault – causing the earthquake.

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Embracing the materials world

By James Dacey

Materials research is enjoying a new golden age. The hit parade of supermaterials that has been discovered in the relatively recent past is extensive. It includes the likes of high-temperature superconductors, quantum dots, bucky-balls, nanotubes, aerogels, silver nanowires and graphene. Meanwhile, new approaches to the commercialization of materials – such as the recent Materials Genome Initiative in the US – are improving the processes by which new materials are transferred from the science lab to practical applications in the real world.

In conjuction with these new discoveries, materials scientists have also made dramatic improvements to the tools they have available for studying and manufacturing materials. Here, the list of advances is seemingly endless. Researchers can now simulate, image and analyse materials with far more accuracy than ever before. Developments in production methods – such as the advent of 3D printing – are also enabling researchers to scale up their new materials with greater ease.

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Meet the engineers who talk to aeroplanes

Fancy a chat with this Boeing 787 Dreamliner? (Courtesy: Boeing)

Fancy a chat with this Boeing 787 Dreamliner? (Courtesy: Boeing)

By Ian Randall

For most people, it’s considered rather eccentric to talk to inanimate objects – and if the objects seem to be talking back, then it’s probably time to seek medical advice! Not, however, for Alex Ng and his colleagues at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who are working on a way to “chat” to buildings, bridges, aeroplanes and other structures, so they can report back on their structural health.

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How mussels stretch but don’t snap

PW-2013-08-02-blog-mussel

Mussel attached to a rock in the Boston area. (Courtesy: Zhao Qin)

By James Dacey

Ask any old sea dog and they will tell you the same thing – mussels are resilient little blighters that’ll cling onto yer ship no matter how fast ye sail. The secret behind the ability of mussels to remain tightly attached to surfaces has now been uncovered by a group of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.

Whereas barnacles fix themselves tightly to the surfaces of rocks, mussels deploy a different form of adhesion. They dangle from surfaces by a series of fine filaments known as byssus threads made from a protein closely related to collagen – a major constituent of skin and bones. The biological explanation for this behaviour is that it allows the mussels to glide through the water increasing the amount of nutrients they can absorb.

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