Molecules/Matter & Energy

Finding materials harder than diamond, plus spintronic devices, wrinkle physics and more in this week's news

Spin-device doctors Devices that use the spin property of electrons to store and process information are one step closer to reality, thanks to a new MRI technique with a resolution tens of thousands of times better than an MRI brain scan. Researchers at Harvard University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics can now watch many electrons spin at the same time — and change the spin of a single electron without disturbing its neighbor. The device was tested on a piece of diamond but could be used to monitor many different kinds of materials, as reported in Nature Physics on May 15. — Devin Powell
Wrinklons, a new species of wrinkle
From heavy curtains to layers of carbon only two atoms thick, sheets attached at one end tend to bunch up in the same way. The shape such a thin layer will take as it is compressed can be predicted by a mathematical formula, says an international team of physicists. A paper to appear in an upcoming Physical Review Letters describes how to calculate stretching energy in units called “wrinklons” and how to smooth out imperfections with subtle tugs. — Devin Powell

Hard as diamond (almost) Nothing is harder than diamond. But a dozen arrangements of carbon that are nearly as hard have been predicted by a new computer simulation. Material scientists at Stony Brook University in New York developed an algorithm that searches for the weakest bonds in a material and optimizes its structure to improve stability. When applied to existing materials, the simulations tend to agree with measurements of hardness, as described in a paper posted May 9 at arXiv.org. — Devin Powell Neutrinos for peace Detectors originally designed to spot particles from space are now monitoring particles spilling out of a nuclear power plant in California. In a paper posted May 11 on arXiv.org, researchers describe the installation and operation of the latest prototype: a device made of water that detects antineutrinos created by nuclear fission and could help the International Atomic Energy Agency guard against the theft of nuclear materials. The first underground prototypes made of plastic were able to measure the power level of the plant and spot the removal of plutonium, a material that could be used to make nuclear bombs. — Devin Powell

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