Tuesday, 10 November 2015

go-pro or pencil-shavings

Researchers are exploiting the amazing properties of the recently discovered carbon-foil graphene to mimic the behaviour of tendons and muscles that can tense and relax at the slightest prompt, be it moisture, pressure or light.
Once these little works of origami were better understood, range of motion could be configured in such a way and programmed to demonstrate certain strengths and agilities. The elusive class of carbon—distinct from the graphite that’s in pencil lead and diamond, had been guessed at for many years and even predicted the material’s robustness but no one could imagine how one could sheer a surface layer so thin as to realise all those assets until Manchester physicists Andre Geim with associate Konstantin Novoselov applied some office tape to a pencil-sketch he’d been making, balled up the tape and rolled it in his fingers before tossing it into the waste bin. Prompted by his partner, Geim later retrieved the bit of cellophane tape—which is a pretty nifty job in materials engineering itself being pressure-sensitive and will produce x-rays if used in a vacuum—to discover that a layer of grapheme had been preserved. Together awarded the Noble Prize in 2010 for this discovery, a decade prior Geim, making him the only laureate to hold both honours, was presented with the Ig Noble for his study on levitating frogs with small magnets. Though this imaginative parody of the pomp and circumstance international committees whose recognition can take decades or more seems to suggest a certain dastardliness in the sciences and humanities, it is quite the opposite in nomination and presentation, crediting achievements that first make one laugh and then think.