Bored with 3D yet? Not real enough for you? Well, someday you may be able to touch your phone or tablet and actually feel what your screen is showing you.

Disney’s Research lab reasoned that when we touch an object, the differences we sense in elevation, surface material, and texture are all the result of friction between a surface and the sensors in our skin. This makes sense, as sensation is just the difference in reaction between the atoms that make up skin cells and the atoms that make up surface. Friction is basically when molecules (bunches of atom) “rub up” against each other by virtue of their fields of electrons. By changing the frictional forces between a finger and a touch screen, one would be able to simulate the sensation of texture.

But how do you change frictional forces? By taking advantage of the way skin detects differences and modifying the electron “surface.” Essentially, Disney tested and developed a touch screen that uses low voltage electricity and vibration to increase friction and simulate texture and elevation. To make this, they had to test these low level charges to determine how the human brain reacts to specific levels, and from there, they build a model that predicts what levels of charge will produce what texture effects.

While the video above demonstrates the technology, its tough to tell how well implemented the technology is or how much potential there is in their techniques without testing it out. They did run focus testing and the results are promising, but I can only hope this moves past a prototype stage. This technology is most exciting for the blind, as they have been consistently left behind by visual touch interfaces and little to no innovation for TTS (text to speech). I can only imagine that something like braille lettering would be quite easily to create. But I don’t want to get away from the ways this can improve technological experiences for everyone. We could be seeing improvements in digital learning, 3D modeling and design (3D printers: eat your heart out), user interface design, communication, interaction and collaboration. In a world dominated by touch interfaces, a new way to interact with a touch screen that’s this innovative could change everything.

Source: Disney Innovation Labs

In addition to confirmation of the worlds strongest material scientists have apparently discovered the worlds most absorbent material. Named after its origin University in Uppsala, Sweden, Upsalite is a powdered form of Magnesium Carbonate which is so porous that should you manage to “stretch out” the actual material present in a gram of it, it would reach out 800 square meters, which is as large as this yacht. It is also completely devoid of water, which lends to its highly absorbent nature.

The team was apparently trying to create new ways of delivering medication, and mistakenly left some equipment on. When they came back, they found the material. What do you do when you see a strange material that formed overnight? Do science on it of course! Not only is this material more absorbs than anyone thought possible, but its also rather cheap to produce. In any case, upsalite is an important discovery with numerous benefits. It will certainly help with oil spill cleanups, developing medicine, keeping water away from sensitive electronics, among many other possibilities. Yay for accidental science!


Graphene may have just been replaced as the strongest and stiffest material. Scientists led by Mingjie Lu at Houston University have calculated that a previously mysterious form of Carbon that has only been rarely found in space is stronger and stiffer than graphene (which is stronger than diamonds).

How strong? Well a diamond’s strength ranges between 2.5-6.5 X 10^7 Nm/kg, and graphene mostly beats that at 4.7-5.5 X 10^7 Nm/kg. Carbyn, as it is called, has a strength range between 6.0-7.5 X 10^7 Nm/kg. It blows away both diamonds and graphene. Its also stiffer, read: doesn’t sway like a piece of string in the wind. While graphene has a stiffness of 4.8 X 10^8 Nm/kg, carbyn has a stiffness of about 10^9 Nm/kg. For those not math inclined, carbyn is much stronger than the strongest previously known materials.

Previously, this material has only been observed as an energy signature in interstellar space, but a couple years ago, scientists apparently manufactured a chain that was at least 44 atoms long. However, the conventional chemist thought was that putting multiple strings together would lead to explosive results.

Despite this, the team conducted experiments on the mysterious material and found that while groups of chains can react, an activation barrier prevents consistent reactions, which means there is potential for multiple string substrates to be stable at room temperature, even. Should scientists be able to create carbyn with a more consistent activation barrier, or even figure out how to consistently improve stability, the ramifications of this material could be enormous. I’ll be keeping an eye on this one.

Source: arXiv (Cornell University Library)

Think about all the ambient radio waves in our environment: 2.4 and 5Ghz WiFi, similar wireless home phone frequencies, terrestrial radio and television, cell phone frequencies, etc. There’s a lot of waves in the air and these waves carry energy. What if we could harvest them.

This is exactly the tech that Nokia is developing according to the MIT Technology Review. The tech is similar to already existing RFID tags, which harvest electromagnetic waves and convert it to an electrical signal. All that needs to be done is ramp up the conversion efficiency.

Currently Nokia claims their prototypes can harvest about 3 to 5 milliwatts of power from ambient RF frequencies, which isn’t very much. However, they are working on new prototypes that will harvest up to 50 milliwatts, which is enough to slowly charge a phone which is in a power saving mode.

Unfortunately, the biggest hurdle for this project is enabling the antennas to harvest enough frequencies to gain that much power. They need a wide band antenna that can pick up hundreds of different radio frequencies so they could generate enough power. Such an antenna would drain power and also lose capturing efficiency due the amount of frequencies it would be looking for.

But regardless, the research sounds promising and if Nokia can do it, they would revolutionize the way think about smartphone batteries. This combined with their recent research into solar powered smartphone screens could spell the end of charging cables forever (army least for Lumia phones). This tech is estimated to be available to the mass market in about 3 to 5 years.