Small prints

Thu, Sep 13, 2012, 01:00

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?No, it’s the Magical Materials exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin.

From Saturday, visitors can find out about and interact with futuristic materials, according to Lynn Scarff, the gallery’s programme manager.

“Materials are core to so many technological advances,” she says. “The most futuristic and advanced materials right now are in labs, in their raw form or as prototypes for new products. We wanted to create an exhibition where people could see and touch these materials now, and we wanted to show that materials science covers an incredibly broad spectrum, from fundamental science to very applied research.”

A team of superhero characters created by artist Stephen Byrne will help to tell the stories of the materials. They include Nanoman (pictured), who has exceptional tensile strength and flexibility, and Morph, who can change shape or size in response to a slight fluctuation in temperature.

Scarff’s favourite material is aerogel, which she describes as the lightest solid on Earth. “Visually it’s quite ethereal and, as is the case with a lot of the materials in this show, it feels the opposite to what you might expect from looking at it.”

The exhibition is being run with the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices at Trinity College Dublin.

Taking a flake from Curiosity

Since the Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August, it has been beaming images back to Earth, like postcards from a really far-flung holiday.

But Curiosity is far from the only source of information about our planetary neighbour. Just this week, Nasa announced that data from its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter pointed to “snowfall” of dry ice, or frozen carbon dioxide, on to the icy cap of the planet’s southern pole in winter.

“These are the first definitive detections of carbon-dioxide snow clouds,” says researcher Paul Hayne of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the agency’s website. “We firmly establish the clouds are composed of carbon dioxide – flakes of Martian air – and they are thick enough to result in snowfall accumulation at the surface.”

Details are published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

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