Monday, October 18, 2010

Science in the Media: Ridiculous Hype is reporting the discovery of "transparent aluminum". Here's the tag line from the article:
"Oxford scientists have created a transparent form of aluminium by bombarding the metal with the world’s most powerful soft X-ray laser. 'Transparent aluminium' previously only existed in science fiction, featuring in the movie Star Trek IV, but the real material is an exotic new state of matter with implications for planetary science and nuclear fusion."
Of course, if you read the article, you'll quickly realize that this opening statement is composed primarily of cattle droppings. Let's look at the details:
  1. Changing the state of the aluminum requires bombarding it with an x-ray laser that draws enough electricity to power a city.
  2. It isn't really transparent. Only extreme ultra-violet light gets through, not visible light.
  3. The aluminum only remains in the altered state for about 40 femtoseconds (a femtosecond is one millionth of one billionth of a second, if you're not a technogeek). To paraphrase Doctor Manhattan, it's an event that occurs so quickly that it can barely be said to have occurred at all.
The experiment is interesting because it allows scientists to see how matter behaves in extremely high energy states, such as might be found inside a star. This experiment has no relevance for construction materials, yet the reporter is acting as if it does.

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