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Solar Electrolysis Goes Viral

Can a virus use sunlight to split water?

3 min read

21 April 2010 If you could use sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, you could store the two elements so that you could burn them later on. The problem is that the usual way of doing this—by generating a current with photovoltaic cells, then running it through a tank of water, triggering electrolysis—requires that you first convert light to electricity. And that itself wastes energy.

A way of avoiding that intermediate step was revealed on 11 April, when researchers at MIT reported in the journal Nature Nanotechnology that they’d gotten a virus to mimic some of the actions of photosynthesis. The virus, called M13, is a phage—that is, it preys not on animals but on bacteria. When added to a container of pigment and a catalyst, it arranges itself and the other molecules in an energy-sharing structure.

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The Transistor at 75

The past, present, and future of the modern world’s most important invention

1 min read
A photo of a birthday cake with 75 written on it.
Lisa Sheehan

Seventy-five years is a long time. It’s so long that most of us don’t remember a time before the transistor, and long enough for many engineers to have devoted entire careers to its use and development. In honor of this most important of technological achievements, this issue’s package of articles explores the transistor’s historical journey and potential future.

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