Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Speed metal: This nano-discovery is a really big deal

UAB researchers and colleagues have created an ultrafast, ultratiny on-off switch out of vanadium dioxide, a material that could be the future of high-tech. But before we get there, we'll probably need to answer this question: What in the world is vanadium dioxide, anyway?

What's the fastest thing you can imagine? How about the smallest?

Well never mind, because there really is no way to wrap your head around what's going on in David Hilton's laser lab in the UAB Department of Physics.

That is to say, you're about to find out what's going on, and it's amazing stuff. Hilton and one of his graduate students, Nate Brady, are hot on the trail of what might be the magic material of the 21st century: vanadium dioxide. This strange, manmade material could be the successor to silicon, paving the way to ultrafast, ultrasmall switches that will make the current information superhighway look like a slow drive down a country road.

But all this is happening so quickly that it staggers the brain.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Video selfies offer a new way to teach chemistry

Can making movies make you a better chemist? UAB chemistry professor Joe March (left) and graduate student Mitzy Erdmann (right) have proven that it does. Their research-tested approach is now implemented across UAB's introductory General Chemistry curriculum.

Hollywood has nothing on the UAB Department of Chemistry. While Tinseltown studios generate some 600 movies per year, students in the university's General Chemistry course produce nearly that many each semester.

"Avatar" this is not. Each video clocks in at five minutes or less and follows a strict formula:

OPEN in a UAB chemistry lab. THREE or FOUR students take turns demonstrating a fundamental lab technique. Each speaks directly to the camera while they explain how to use a balance, how to pipette, or how to do an accurate titration.

There is no scene 2.

The teaching assistants who grade dozens of these videos each year may relish the occasional creative approaches, such as the group who adopted a "Star Wars" theme (see below), or the ones who broke for commercials. But entertainment isn't the idea. Call it sci (non)fi.