Vol. 1 / No. 15 — Little LEDs, Arms and Legs, and The Vermeer Machine

Smallest Pixel Ever (Coming Soon)

Image © Guillaume Schull – IPCMS (CNRS/Université de Strasbourg). Artist impression of electroluminescence in a single polythiophene molecular wire suspended between the tip and the surface of a scanning tunneling microscope.
Image © Guillaume Schull – IPCMS (CNRS/Université de Strasbourg).
Artist impression of electroluminescence in a single polythiophene molecular wire suspended between the tip and the surface of a scanning tunneling microscope.

Researchers at the Institut de Physique et de Chimie des Matériaux de Strasbourg (IPCMS, CNRS/Université de Strasbourg), in collaboration with UMPC and CEA, announced recently that they have created the world’s smallest LED, consisting of a single molecular wire of polythiophene (see the image above — yes those dots are atoms). The light given off is in the red range, and at present this is really only useful for scientific development, but every advance is worth mentioning, and this one’s pretty cool. You can download the press release here, and the research was published online in the January 31 issue of Physical Review Letters.

The Vermeer Machine

This week at NPR’s Science Friday, they have an interview with Tim Jenison and magician Teller (Pen Jillette’s “silent partner”) about their new documentary “Tim’s Vermeer,” and it’s really worth a listen.  If you haven’t heard of it, the basic premise of the film is this: there are certain optical effect visible in Vermeer’s paintings that suggest (like many artists of the time and since) that he was using lenses at some point in the process. Normally, you’d just say “Oh, he must have been using a camera obscura,” but in Vermeer’s case it doesn’t fit. Vermeer’s paintings show little evidence that they were drawn before they were painted, which is what a camera obscura would be used for (you can’t paint in a camera obscura, because the moment you put down pigment in the coloured light from the lens, you lose track of what colour your pigment actually is). So engineer Tim Jenison came up with a way to explain it: an ingenious “machine” that allows you to, in a sense, “trace” reality and match the colours using mirrors. I can’t wait to see this one. The trailer’s below, and it’s in select theatres now.


Also on limited release is facebook’s new news app Paper, which was released earlier this week. Unfortunately, it’s only on iOS7, so it doesn’t run on either my Note or my old iPhone. The reviews are good: TechCrunch is saying it could be “a facebook replacement,” and The Atlantic is calling it “designy and millennial-attuned” — code words for a good replacement for the baby-and-cat-picture-riddled mess that facebook has become, of late. Of course, facebook has no plans to release the app for Android, so I’ll still be of use to non-apple-adherents.

More Cancer

A report this week out of the World Health Organization is warning of a 57% rise in cancer rates over the next 20 years: the quotable quote seems to be that “we cannot treat our way out” of the problem, and will need to start preventing it. Why are rates going up? Because we are, as a species, living longer. Cancer is, as I like to call it, an inevitable outcome. If you live long enough, you will get cancer. The rise in cancer rates is in large part due to the fact that we’re getting better as a species at living long enough to get cancer. Other factors include a rise in smoking rates in developing nations (which will almost certainly give you lung cancer, if something else doesn’t kill you first), and virus-borne cancers, like those caused by HPV. If you’d really like a way off the WHO cancer-scare merry-go-round, here’s an article by the Motley Fool on five ways the report isn’t so scary after all.

Executive Shuffle

Microsoft announced this week that it was getting a new CEO. Satya Nadella previously ran the company’s cloud operations, and some are saying it signals a shift in the company’s direction. TechCrunch looks at what you’re really interested in: how many millions is he getting paid for this?

Not to be outdone, Google did a little shuffling itself this week, confirming that Susan Wojcicki, SVP of Ads and Commerce for the company (as well as longtime garage-provider to Larry Page and Sergey Brin) is being moved over to YouTube as its new top dog. Let that be a lesson to you all: if a brilliant friend or two of yours needs space to work, lend them your garage. You could end up running YouTube someday.

Telescope News

In the world of telescopes, we’ve got two great pieces of news this week: the first, from io9.com, is that Kepler is back up and running! You may recall that last November someone came up with the idea of supplementing the probe’s two still-functioning stabilizer “reaction wheels” with solar pressure to keep it steady for 75 days at a time — and it’s worked. This is great news for fans of the planet-discovery mission that’s brought us literally thousands of new worlds to study.

The second, out of phys.org, is that the ESO’s New Technology Telescope has been used for the first time to verify the makeup of an asteroid. It found that asteroid Itokawa is much more dense on one side than the other, giving us another insight into these still largely mysterious objects.

Arms and Legs

For the first time scientists have managed to restore some feeling through the use of a bionic hand. Sensors in the arm register resistance to movement and transfer that data to the wearer’s nervous system via four electrodes hooked up to the wearer’s nerves. We’re not exactly up to Luke Skywalker standards just yet, but it’s a great step forward.

In almost entirely unrelated news, these “make your own table” legs are pretty cool, too.

Meet Taranis

Footage hit the internet this week of Taranis, the UK’s stealth military drone that seems to remind people of a cylon. It can fly undetected, piloted via satellite from anywhere on Earth, and drop bombs on folks without ever risking the lives of the human controlling it. If that’s not scary enough, it should be able to do so faster than the speed of sound in the near future.

And if you need a positive drone story, here’s one about a Connecticut firefighter who used his own personal drone to make sure the coast was clear in a fire where explosives were potentially in danger of going off. Knowing that the explosives were nowhere near the fire allowed them to safely go in and put it out without risking life or limb (too much — I mean it is still a fire).

The Rest of the Best

Here’s what I couldn’t fit in this week: being shot in the face is bad for you (science says so, so it must be true); being shot anywhere else isn’t as bad for you as it used to be, so long as someone nearby has a syringe full of sponges; scientists have found 800,000 year-old “human” footprints in the UK; and if you ever wanted to know what a mythological being looked like, this is the book for you.

Have a great week.