Molecules/Matter & Energy

A new class of materials could boost wireless power transmission, plus more in this week’s news

Metamaterial power
A power relay system made of metamaterials — substances engineered to interact with electromagnetic energy in unusual ways — could give a big boost to technologies that transmit power wirelessly through the air. Cell phone docks and other devices that charge cordless electronics are currently limited by laws of physics; the efficiency of this power transfer drops off steeply over longer distances. But David Smith of Duke University, who developed the first metamaterial invisibility cloak in 2006, describes online February 11 at how to design a superlens that can enhance the transmission of energy by a factor of 10. —Devin Powell

Scorpion shells
Chitin, which gives many animal shells their hardness, is notoriously difficult to find in the fossil record — it tends to decay easily. But a team of scientists led by George Cody of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., has discovered the remnants of chitin-protein complexes in a 310-million-year-old scorpion and a 417- million-year-old scorpionlike creature, proving that these creatures had tough cuticles. The previous record for oldest chitin was held by an 80 million-year-old fossil. As reported online February 3 in Geology, the team used a beam of X-rays at the Advanced Light Source facility at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., to uncover the atomic building blocks — the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen — of this structural material. —Devin Powell


Hydrogen’s headshot
Researchers have directly imaged the lightest atoms on Earth for the first time. Hydrogen atoms appear as dark spots in the new images, separate teams in Japan report online February 13 in Nature Materials and November 5 in Applied Physics Express. The dots reveal the structures of the crystalline solids ytterbium hydride and vanadium hydride, materials that are being developed as spongelike containers for storing hydrogen. To spot the camera-shy hydrogen atoms, which interact weakly with the X-rays and electrons used by scientists to probe the structure of matter, each team developed slightly different ways of detecting how the materials deflected electrons in the beam of a scanning transmission electron microscope. —Devin Powell

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