People debating politics are well-advised to shed more light than heat. Engineers working in optical technologies have the same aspiration.

An international team of scientists led by a Princeton University group recently discovered that on the surface of certain materials collective arrangements of electrons move in ways that mimic the presence of a magnetic field where none is present. The finding represents one of the most exotic macroscopic quantum phenomena in condensed-matter physics: a topological Quantum Spin Hall effect.

STRENGTHENING THE FORENSIC SCIENCE SYSTEM IN THE UNITED STATES: A PATH FORWARD, a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council, takes a broad look at the needs of the nation's crime labs and medical examiner system, discusses the scientific status of many forensic methods, and recommends steps policymakers and practitioners should take to improve the U.S. forensic science system. The report will be released at a one-hour public briefing on Wednesday, Feb. 18.

New Haven, Conn. — Yale engineers have created a process that may revolutionize the manufacture of nano-devices from computer memory to biomedical sensors by exploiting a novel type of metal. The material can be molded like plastics to create features at the nano-scale and yet is more durable and stronger than silicon or steel. The work is reported in the February 12 issue of Nature.

Plasmonics -- a possible replacement for current computing approaches -- may pave the way for the next generation of computers that operate faster and store more information than electronically-based systems and are smaller than optically-based systems, according to a Penn State engineer who has developed a plasmonic switch.

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have discovered that a carefully built magnetic sandwich that interleaves layers of a magnetic alloy with a few nanometers of silver “spacer” has dramatically enhanced sensitivity—a 400-fold improvement in some cases. This material could lead to greatly improved magnetic sensors for a wide range of applications from weapons detection and non-destructive testing to medical devices and high-performance data storage.

Your refrigerator’s humming, electricity-guzzling cooling system could soon be a lot smaller, quieter and more economical thanks to an exotic metal alloy discovered by an international collaboration working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)’s Center for Neutron Research (NCNR).*

New imaging and high capacity wireless communications systems are one step closer to reality, thanks to a millimeter wave amplifier invented at the University of California, San Diego and unveiled on Feb 11, 2009 at the prestigious International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco, Calif.

One of the themes of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is the need to keep vital and sensitive information secure. Today, we take it for granted that most of our information is safe because it's encrypted. Every time we use a credit card, transfer money from our checking accounts -- or even chat on a cell phone -- our personal information is protected by a cryptographic system.

But the development of quantum computers threatens to shatter the security of current cryptographic systems used by businesses and banks around the world.