Applied Physics

When you see an article about geckos and their ability to sit upside down, Spider-Man references are sure to follow. And if the topic is that sticky ability in spiders, you will get Spider-Man references and a picture.

Yet even geckos have limits - that's just plain nanophysics.

The fact is, sooner or later the grip is lost, no matter how little force is acting on it. But knowing the limits can have considerable benefits, for instance in the production of graphene - because graphene consists only of one layer of atom, and which must be easily detached from the substrate.

We know that ancient Japanese gold leaf artists were truly masters of their craft - their works are ornate and delicate.

What remains a mystery is how artifacts were gilded with gold leaf that was hand-beaten to the nanometer scale. Gold leaf refers to a very thin sheet made from a combination of gold and other metals. It has almost no weight and can only be handled by specially designed tools. Even though the ancient Egyptians were probably the first to gild artwork with it, the Japanese have long been credited as being able to produce the thinnest gold leaf in the world.

Stanford researchers envision a crystal that can form a monolayer three atoms thick. Their computer simulations show that this crystal, molybdenum ditelluride, can act like a switch: its crystal lattice can be mechanically pulled and pushed, back and forth, between two different atomic structures -- one that conducts electricity well, the other that does not. 

The switchable material is formed when one atomic layer of molybdenum atoms gets sandwiched between two atomic layers of tellurium atoms. Molybdenum and tellurium are elements that are currently used as additives for making alloys, such as steel. Tellurium is also a component of many modern solar cells.

When it comes to urine, it's all relative. We can't prove Sir Isaac Newton was thinking about how animals urinate when he was developing his laws of gravity but he can't prove he wasn't either. What we can prove is that they are connected – by the urethra, to be specific.

A new study investigated how quickly 32 animals urinate. It turns out that it's all about the same. Even though an elephant's bladder is 3,600 times larger than a cat's (18 liters vs. 5 milliliters), both animals relieve themselves in about 20 seconds. In fact, all animals that weigh more than 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) urinate in that same time span.

In previous articles I’ve demonstrated how to use littleBits and erector set parts to build a magnetic stirrer and a sample rotator. Since I was able to drive Erector set machines with the littleBits motor I decided to try to use it to drive K’nex contraptions.

Wrinkles, creases and folds are everywhere in nature, from our skin to the buckled crust of the Earth. They're useful structures for engineers. Wrinkles in thin films, for example, can help make durable circuit boards for flexible electronics.

A new mathematical model developed by researchers from Brown University could help engineers control the formation of wrinkle, crease, and fold structures in a wide variety of materials. It may also help scientists understand how these structures form in nature. 

Have you ever wondered how hand warmers and cold packs worked? The kind that can be stored at room temperature and then used when needed depend on exothermic and endothermic chemical reactions. An exothermic chemical reaction gives off heat into its surroundings. Conversely, an endothermic reaction absorbs heat from the surrounding environment.


It doesn't happen often but there are times when its unclear if a football crosses the goal line for a touchdown. If a quarterback attempts a sneak, for example, and the line pushes forward, he may be under too many players to be seen.

All the referees can do is pull people off and look at where the ball is, though there is no idea if that's where it was when his knee touched the ground. A Disney Research team, in collaboration from NC State and Carnegie-Mellon, developed a system that can track a football in three-dimensional space using low-frequency magnetic fields. 

The Advanced Wonder Excitement Surprise Original Mechatronic Excellence lab is usually devoted to robot design but recently they took a break to go old school. 

How old school? The 13th century, that's how old school.
By ‘caging’ and cooling water molecules in carbon spheres to study the change in orientation of the magnetic nuclei at the center of each hydrogen atom, researchers have been able to transform the molecule from one form of water to another.

Water molecules can exist as one of two isomers, depending on how the spins of their two hydrogen atoms are orientated: ortho, where the nuclear spins are parallel to one another, and para, where the spins are antiparallel. Scientists believe that any given molecule can transform from ortho- into para- spin states and vice versa, a process known as nuclear spin conversion.