Monday, April 10, 2006

The Large and Small of It

There is so much to write about, and so little time, but this amazing image of what has been called the "DNA Nebula" stopped me in my tracks. I ran across it in National Geographic News. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope captured this infrared image of a spiraling, intertwining nebula in our own Milky Way galaxy that is some 80 light-years in length and is shaped like a colossal DNA strand.

In my classroom, we sometimes talk about what we term "Big Thoughts" - questions about time, eternity, space, infinity . . . this will make for some interesting discussion tomorrow - after we take the damn MAP test, that is.

"Nobody has ever seen anything like that before in the cosmic realm," said Mark Morris, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead author of the study (appears in this week's issue of Nature).

"Most nebulae are either spiral galaxies full of stars or formless, amorphous conglomerations of dust and gas, space weather. What we see indicates a high degree of order."

On the same day, I ran across this article about some MIT researchers that are using viruses to create miniscule batteries the size of a grain of rice.

By manipulating a few genes inside these viruses, the team was able to coax the organisms to grow and self-assemble into a functional electronic device. In their research, the MIT team altered the virus's genes so they make protein coats that collect molecules of cobalt oxide, plus gold.

The viruses then align themselves on the polymer surface to form ultrathin wires. Each virus, and thus the wire, is only 6 nanometers (6 billionths of a meter) in diameter, and 880 nanometers in length. The batteries made from these special altered viruses can store two or three times more energy for its size and weight compared to previously used battery electrode materials.

A report on this work is in the April 7 issue of Science.

(Speaking of small things . . . I was going to write about Dick Cheney coming to town, but these item are so much more interesting. I heard part of Cheney's speech on KY3 - he wasn't even reading it very well. Something about defending liberty . . . blah blah blah.)

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