2011 Science News of the Year: Technology

Courtesy of J. Rogers

Epidermal electronics

Scientists have created an ultrathin electronic device that puckers, stretches, wrinkles and bends just like human skin (SN: 9/10/11, p. 10). This flexible patch could one day allow the human body to enter the digital world, enabling Internet browsing without the mouse or communication without words. The patch’s electronics form a flexible net of wavy S-shaped curves that can stretch in any direction and still work. Two supple polymer sheets sandwich the business layer of the gadget and the whole thing sits on a film that sticks to skin.

Developed as less obtrusive health monitors, versions of the device have been used to track vital signs. In a more lighthearted demonstration, the patch analyzed a person’s throat muscles as directions were spoken to move a cursor in a computer game. Mixing and matching electronic components could lead to a variety of jobs, says study coauthor John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Creative folks out there will think of things we haven’t even contemplated.” — Laura Sanders

Tiny test drive  A miniature roadster with four molecular wheels and a carbon-based frame rolls across a surface when zapped with electricity (SN: 12/17/11, p. 8).

Virtual princess  A team unveils a 3-D holographic video that plays at 15 frames per second, displaying a real-time projection of a grad student dressed as Princess Leia (SN Online: 1/26/11).

No batteries  A prototype sensor produces enough electrical charge when flexed mechanically to transmit a wireless signal several meters. Such sensors may help monitor the strength of a bridge, for example, while getting power from the vibrations of trucks rumbling overhead (SN: 7/30/11, p. 18).

Do the twist  A new way to mold radio waves into spirals could let multiple radio stations broadcast at the same frequency (SN: 8/27/11, p. 16).

Built for speed  A robot that curls itself into a loop and peels out at speeds faster than half a meter per second has been created (SN: 5/21/11, p. 10).

’Stiltskin science  In a feat that puts Rumpelstiltskin to shame, researchers spin a multitude of hi-tech materials into superfine nano­wire bundles 1,000-plus meters long (SN: 7/16/11, p. 16).

Fix thyself  A new lithium-ion battery capable of healing itself may improve the life span and safety of today’s energy-storage technologies (SN Online: 2/21/11).

Follow the flies  Mimicking how some developing nerve cells in flies pick a leader has led to a computer algorithm that could make wireless sensor networks more efficient (SN: 2/12/11, p. 13).