APS News

March 2012 (Volume 21, Number 3)

Biggest March Meeting Yet Covers Lots of Ground

The APS March Meeting is early this year, and promises to bring a plethora of physics to Boston, Massachusetts. The meeting is taking place at the Boston Convention Center from February 27 through March 2nd, and is shaping up to be the biggest standalone March Meeting in APS history. Physicists from across the globe will present nearly 9,000 talks in almost 700 sessions on cutting edge research in condensed matter physics, computational physics, chemical and biological physics, new materials, polymers and fluids. In addition, a number of sessions devoted to social issues will explore the role of physics in industry, national security, human dynamics, sustainable energy and energy storage. More than 9,500 people are expected to attend including 900 invited speakers.

Here are a few of the meeting highlights:

Physics Sets its Sights on the Mesoscale

At a special session sponsored by the Kavli Foundation, some of the nation’s top physicists weigh in on the next frontier of physics: the mesoscale, where physics, biology and chemistry all start to overlap. The fundamental question of whether physics can find emergent laws for proteins and other objects at this scale will be explored (session T19).

Spider Silk Takes Center Stage
Spider webs are made of an amazing material–natural silk that’s flexible yet strong. It’s long been a favorite of researchers, and is the subject of several sessions this year. A team from the University of Akron has been studying silk’s characteristics at both the nano and macro level to explain where it gets its toughness and stickiness (session Y47.10). Another team, at Tufts University, has been controlling a spider-silk-inspired material’s ability to self-assemble by varying its temperature and the length of its molecules (session H52.09). At Florida State University, engineers have investigated spider silk’s electrical properties, and its potential uses in electronics (session W49.12).

Electronics Made out of Paper
There’s nothing like the feel of a good book, and now researchers think they can replicate that for e-readers. Andrew Steckl and his team at the University of Cincinnati have come up with a way to use actual paper to make an interactive and flexible screen for e-reader displays. Using a process called electrowetting, which moves oil-based inks across a surface using changes in voltage, and hydrophobic paper as a substrate, the team is working to create the first generation of bendable computer screens and ultimately entire computers (session B42.13).

Omni-Directionally Strong Diamonds
Researchers from Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution of Washington have created a new form of ultra-strong carbon. Dubbed amorphous diamond, it is made by subjecting carbon to pressures that are 400,000 times normal atmospheric pressure, thus forming a material with a disorganized molecular structure that is as strong as diamond in all directions, and that can’t be cleaved like natural diamonds. Unfortunately, the material lacks the luster of a true diamond, so it is not suitable as a gemstone (session V25.06).

On the Origin of Words
It’s a competitive world out there for new words. Either they catch on and become part of the vernacular, or get forgotten and are consigned to the dustbin of history. Hoping to better understand the evolution of language, researchers at Boston University scoured Google’s massive Ngram database, which searches for the frequency of word use in millions of books stretching back to 1800. They found that words compete for usage, and will become widely accepted if continually used for about 40 years, about the time it takes to be incorporated into a dictionary (session J54.11).

The Physics of Ponytails
Ponytails come in many different lengths and styles and now a team of researchers from the United Kingdom can predict their shapes based on measurements of individual hairs. The team developed an equation to predict the shape of a ponytail that factors an individual hair’s elasticity, response to gravity and intrinsic fluffiness. They used high-resolution stereoscopic images of commercial hair samples to come up with the equation. The researchers say that next up is the physics of ponytails in motion (session H52.03).

Nanostethoscope for Insects
Researchers at Clarkson University have found a way to listen to a ladybug’s heartbeat. They poked a hole in a thin metallic membrane for the tip of an atomic force microscope to peek through. This let them hold the tip of the AFM up to the exoskeleton of a variety of insects beneath it and listen to the subtle and high pitched hum coming from the tiny creature’s heart. Researcher Igor Sokolov will also discuss how this technique might one day be used to diagnose the health of a human organ (session H1.07).

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Editor: Alan Chodos

March 2012 (Volume 21, Number 3)

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Biggest March Meeting Yet Covers Lots of Ground
Bill to Kill Open Access Mandate Sparks Debate
APS Outreach Website Features Exclusive Videos from Space
Panel Stresses Collaboration as Nanomaterial Use Surges
New Forum on Outreach Off and Running
Chemistry Education Program Adopts APS Model
APS Awards Outreach Grants to Seven Creative Teams
Murnane Chairs Selection Committee for National Medal of Science
Molenkamp Takes Charge of Phys Rev B
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This Month in Physics History
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