Light pulses that last just a billionth of a billionth of a second are allowing scientists to view the movement of electrons in detail for the first time. In the darkest month of the year, Horizon turns its gaze towards the science of light.
We discover how these rapid light pulses are helping scientists make ‘molecular movies’ of chemical reactions, and learn how Europe is leading the way in the use of extreme light, from the world’s brightest X-ray to one of the world’s most powerful lasers.
We investigate the new materials that are harnessing sunlight to clean our environment, from pollution-absorbing bus lanes to paint that purifies drinking water. Finally, we explore how new LED technology could not only dramatically cut Europe’s lighting bills but also influence the way we interact with our environment.
The world’s brightest pulses of light will reveal things that have never been seen before, according to Professor Wolfgang Sandner, director-general of the consortium building a facility known as the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI), which can produce lasers that are stronger than all the world’s power stations combined.
Ultra-short bursts of light are helping scientists see the movement of electrons in real time and opening up the possibility of controlling their activity, with potential applications that include super-fast computing and a window into the mechanics of chemical reactions.
The construction industry has a heavy carbon footprint, accounting for some 40% of global emissions, and yet, as the world’s population grows, demand for housing and building is only soaring. We kick off 2021 by looking at how the construction sector can become greener and some of the radical solutions required. We speak to sustainable architecture expert Dr Catherine De Wolf about the need to design recyclable buildings and how that will require a fundamental restructure of the way the construction industry works. We look at nearly zero energy wooden homes and investigate whether this material can help us kick our concrete habit – concrete being the most used substance on Earth. We home in on techniques to make cement greener and piezoelectric to light up spaces with the addition of vegetable waste, and at how self-healing building materials can prolong the life of civil infrastructures. And we explore the promise of fungal architecture to see whether structures grown from fungus can green the way we build.
In December, as the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission to create a precise 3-D map of a billion objects in the Milky Way releases its next tranche of data, we take an in-depth look at what we know – and what we don’t – about our home galaxy. We speak to astrophysicist Prof. Ralf Klessen about why it might enhance our understanding of the Milky Way to consider it as a constantly evolving ecosystem rather than studying different parts in an isolated way. We speak to scientists who are trying to image the centre of the galaxy, which is hidden from view behind giant dust and gas clouds, and we explore the latest research into how stars are formed. And finally, we find out what the galaxies surrounding the Milky Way can tell us about our home system.
In the summer of 2014 a strange building began to take shape just outside MoMA PS1, a contemporary art centre in New York City. It looked like someone had started building an igloo and then got carried away, so that the ice-white bricks rose into huge towers. It was a captivating sight, but the truly impressive thing about this building was not so much its looks but the fact that it had been grown.
Bilingual people can effortlessly switch between languages during everyday interactions. But beyond its usefulness in communication, being bilingual could affect how the brain works and enhance certain abilities. Studies into this could inform techniques for learning languages and other skills.
Live mycelium networks, capable of information processing, could be used as building materials.
Researchers are investigating whether bilingualism enhances certain cognitive abilities.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.