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  • nematic phase_HERO

    The Exotic Matter States Behind PCs, Visual Displays, and the Future of Water

    You might have learned in school that there are three phases of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. That is a useful simplification for young students, but there are in fact many, many more. In the past century or so, we’ve discovered that there are hundreds of distinct solid phases—some of which are used to build […]

  • Ghent Altarpiece

    How to Make Art That Withstands the Test of Time

    A degraded frame from an old celluloid (aka nitrate) film, the same material used by Naum Gabo in some of his sculptures   In the 1930s, Russian-born sculptor Naum Gabo started experimenting with a thin, plastic material called celluloid. Previously used as film for photography or to make cheap jewelry, celluloid in Gabo’s hands became […]

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    Odell Beckham’s Helping Hands—the Tech Behind the Catch

    It was the catch that broke the Internet. In a game against the Dallas Cowboys last week, rookie wide receiver for the New York Giants Odell Beckham Jr. launched himself into the air backwards, arm outstretched, and managed to catch a pass using one hand—actually just the tips of a thumb and two fingers—to score […]

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    Our Cities Could Get a Whole Lot Smarter

    Pieces of SolaRoad, concrete blocks topped with solar cells, were recently installed in a bike path in Holland.SolaRoad Remember having to stay at home and wait for phone calls? (If you’re below a certain age, you can consult old movies, books, or TV shows—or just trust me on this.) It wasn’t so long ago that […]

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    A Material So Dark That It Looks Like a Black Hole

    Even when applied to a highly reflective surface like aluminum foil, Vantablack renders the entire surface, including creases, all but invisible.Surrey Nanosystems via Wikipedia Color is such a powerful and evocative sensation—one of the first that we learn to describe as children—that we don’t often think about what it really is. In a sense, color […]

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    Food Vibrations—Spiders Are Total Virtuosos With Their Webs

    A single thread of spider silk flexes deforms under impact from a plastic bullet traveling around 400 meters per second, or 900 miles per hour.OxfordSilkGroup Few materials are as fascinating as spider silk. It’s stronger than steel, flexible rather than brittle, and light enough to float on the breeze. And vibrations in webs tell spiders, […]

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    Sparkly Mints May Help Explain Puzzling “Earthquake Lights”

    Agriculture inspector Jim Conacher photographed these earthquake lights over Tagish Lake, in Canada’s Yukon Territory, in 1972Jim Conacher For centuries, people have been reporting mysterious lights along the ground and in the sky soon before an earthquake hits. But it wasn’t until 1966 that there was some solid evidence of the lights, when one man […]