Physics Today Daily Edition
MIT Technology Review: Most optical materials bend different wavelengths of light to different degrees. To obtain a clear image, multiple lenses are needed to focus all the light on the same spot. Multiple lenses can make cameras bulky, which poses a problem for small electronic devices. Federico Capasso of Harvard University has now demonstrated the ability of carefully structured thin films of materials such as silicon to bend red, green, and blue wavelengths of light at the same angle. Those three colors are necessary to provide full-color images. The nanostructured material could allow for a significant reduction in the number and size of lenses needed for portable or wearable electronics.
Nature: That young scientists are generally considered to be at the forefront of new ideas in their fields is a widely held belief throughout the sciences. Now, Mikko Packalen of the University of Waterloo in Canada and Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University and their colleagues have found proof to back that up. They wrote a computer program to look for the most commonly used 1-, 2-, and 3-word phrases in the titles and abstracts in the MEDLINE database of biomedical research. To determine which articles were the most innovative, they looked at when the terms first appeared. By calculating the ages of the contributing authors, the researchers found that scientists are significantly more likely to cite innovative ideas in the first 10–15 years of their career than they are later in life. They also found that the most innovative papers had an early-career first author and a mid-career last author. The numbers might shift somewhat depending on the particular field of study, or if the full text of the articles were analyzed.
New Scientist: Meteors pass through Earth's sky every day, but determining which will hit the ground is not easy. Now, Manuel Moreno-Ibàñez of the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain and his colleagues have developed a model that predicts which meteors will explode and which will land. Their model relies on two parameters: the drag and the heating the meteor experiences because of friction in the atmosphere. To test the model, the researchers used trajectory and height data from the Meteorite Observation and Recovery Project. The model also predicts how much energy meteorites will have at impact and where they will strike. Although not useful as any sort of early warning system, it will help scientists locate meteorites after impact for further study.
Nature: The Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA–E) was established seven years ago to help promote investment in clean-energy technology. On 9 February, at the program's annual summit, the project managers announced that technologies supported by ARPA–E have also received $850 million in private investment. The ARPA–E program itself has invested $1.1 billion in more than 400 projects, but determining the actual impact of the investment is difficult because of the slow-moving nature of the energy industry. However, over the past two years, venture-capital investment in the US has dropped sharply, with almost none going to early-stage clean-energy research. To help reverse that trend, the US government announced on 10 February a new initiative to increase private investment, which has already garnered a pledge of $1 billion from the University of California Board of Regents for investment in climate-friendly technologies.
New Scientist: Other than Earth, Mars is the most studied planet in the solar system. Nevertheless, mysterious phenomena continue to be observed there. On 12 March 2012 amateur astronomers saw what appeared to be a plume of gas and dust rising up to 250 km above Mars's surface. Over the next 11 days the plume grew to cover an area 1000 km across. By 2 April it had faded away. Just 4 days later a second plume appeared that lasted another 10 days. To date, no one has provided a satisfactory explanation of the plumes' origin. Agustin Sánchez-Lavega of the University of the Basque Country, Spain, and his colleagues have collected images of those events and searched archival images of Mars. Among the images, the researchers found a similar event from 1997. Because of the plumes' altitude and duration, they are unlike any other known clouds in the solar system. And as there are no known active volcanoes on Mars, they probably aren't volcanic plumes. Observing another such event may be the best option for figuring out what is going on, but they occur so rarely that it could be some time before that's possible.