BBC: George Osborne, the UK’s chancellor of the exchequer, announced a £600 million ($966 million) increase for science research, to be spent over the next three years. In a speech to the Royal Society on 9 November, Osborne focused on eight key areas to support: “big data” computing, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, agricultural science, energy storage, advanced materials, robotics, and space. The new investment, said Royal Society president Paul Nurse, “will hopefully help ensure that our world-leading scientists have world-leading facilities with which to work.”
Nature: The metamaterials used in solar panels, heat detectors, and specialized cameras absorb light efficiently, but manufacturing them is usually difficult, expensive, or both. A team led by David Smith from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has developed a cheap and simple alternative process to achieve a similar material. The researchers placed a thin layer of gold on a piece of glass, covered it in a layer of polymer a few nanometers thick, and then scattered silver nanocubes on the surface. When light hits the silver cubes, it excites their electrons, which create a sympathetic excitement in the electrons in the gold. The resulting “plasmon resonance” traps the light in the polymer layer; the thickness of the layer determines what wavelength of light gets trapped. Smith’s technique still needs to be refined by ensuring the silver cubes are all the same size and finding a nonorganic substitute for the polymer for use in high-temperature devices. But the ease of creating the material will likely make such metamaterials much more useful in consumer products.
San Francisco Chronicle: The National Nuclear Security Administration in charge of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has requested extended funding from the US Congress. The National Ignition Facility at LLNL originally had a deadline for the end of this year to achieve “ignition,” or the successful implosion of hydrogen fuel resulting in fusion. After three years of experiments, that goal has not been achieved, and the NNSA is asking for funding for another three years. How close the facility is to success is a matter of some debate, and the cost to date of the facility of more than $5 billion makes many members of Congress skeptical about the likelihood of future success. NIF’s overall goal is to attempt to re-create the effect of hydrogen bombs in a controlled way so that the effects of the aging of the US nuclear stockpile can be determined.
Science: At this week’s annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that in 2012 the Arctic experienced new record lows for summer sea ice, spring snow cover, and the Greenland ice sheet—despite the fact that air temperatures were not unusually high this year relative to the past decade. “The Arctic is changing in both predictable and unpredictable ways, so we must expect surprises,” said Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator, in a press release. The announcement was based on NOAA’s 2012 Arctic Report Card, which incorporates the work of 141 scientists from 15 countries.
Ars Technica: Many materials, such as sugar crystals and human skin cells, are transparent when viewed individually or in small quantities. Scattering of light is what turns those materials opaque when viewed in bulk. Jacopo Bertolotti and Elbert van Putten of the University of Twente in the Netherlands and colleagues have found a way to image objects hidden in those types of opaque materials. As a laser passes through the scattering material, the beam of light is redirected and split. The splitting causes the light that comes out the other side to interfere with itself and sometimes end up in phase. When the light is in phase, it creates a bright spot, which reflects off the hidden object. When the researchers change the angle of the light, the bright spot moves predictably. By mapping the bright spot’s reflections and known locations, they can calculate the shape of the object. The technique likely has many uses in research labs, but as yet it can only penetrate a few millimeters into a sample and still make clear images.
Nature: Texas Republican congressman Lamar Smith, considered a supporter of R&D-based innovation, will chair the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in the US House of Representatives. The news reportedly makes science advocates “cautiously hopeful.” Smith has served on the committee for 26 years. Keith Grzelak, a government relations official for the IEEE, said Smith “understands the role that science, technology and engineering can play in boosting the economy.” Smith has spearheaded patent simplification legislation and championed measures to facilitate immigration for holders of STEM degrees. His tone on human-caused climate disruption has reportedly been “more moderate than that of his challengers for the chairmanship.” In 2010 he voted against reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, which will be up again next year. Michael Lubell, director of public affairs at the American Physical Society, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas representative who is the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, have both expressed hopes about Smith’s tenure.