The Cosmos top 10 tech stories of 2015

Number 10:

Breakthrough for quantum computers

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Andrea Morello at work. The quantum computer he and his team are trying to build would use silicon chips not dissimilar to those in a conventional computer. – MARCUS ENO

Electrical engineers trying to develop a silicon quantum computer have cleared one of the last hurdles to building a simple device. Read more


Number 9: 

Concrete buildings that heal themselves

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Workers apply self-healing repair mortar in an underground parking garage. The mortar is mixed with bacterial spores that are activated when water seeps into the concrete. – HENDRIK JONKERS

A living concrete that self-repairs any cracks could change the way we maintain our homes and cities. A microbiologist in the Netherlands is set to revolutionise the building industry by placing spores of mineral-excreting bacteria in the concrete mix. Read more


Number 8: 

What does an electron cloud really look like?

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AFM charge-distribution map of a fluorine-rich molecule, showing the electron cloud (yellow) that forms around the fluorine atoms. Part of the molecule is overlaid with a model of the molecular structure as a guide for the eye. – AMERICAN PHYSICAL SOCIETY

Chemists in Europe can now snap images of single molecules that are so sharp you can not only see the individual atoms within the molecule, but also make out the electrons that bond the atoms together. Read more


Number 7: 

Invisibility becomes reality?

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Researchers are edging toward invisibility cloaks – KEN STRAITON

As far back as Plato people imagined the power of invisibility. Now the fantasy is being made real. Over the past decade researchers have developed cloaks, shields and other devices that seem to make fish, cats and even people vanish, and spinoff technologies that could shield objects from sonar, radar and our sense of touch. Read more


Number 6: 

The most accurate clock ever made

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At the heart of the clock mechanism lies a blue cloud of strontium atoms. The tick rate – 430 trillion times a second – is set by the quantum leaps of their electrons. – The Ye Group / Brad Baxley / Jila

Scientists have succeeded in making a clock so precise it could tick for 15 billion years – longer than the age of the Universe – without gaining or losing a second. The new research sets a world record for timekeeping and is a three-fold improvement over the previous record, and its applications go way beyond telling the time. Read more


Number 5: 

Reality you can virtually touch

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What a person looks like when they are playing a game on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. – Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The groundbreaking Oculus Rift headset makes dinosaurs appear so real you want to stroke their spiky backs. From the screen to the gyroscope and compass, we take a look at the technology behind the Oculus Rift and its rivals. Read more


Number 4:

Radio interference wreaks havoc with telescopes

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Radio telescopes, such as this one in New South Wales, Australia, are highly sensitive to locally produced radio waves in their immediate vicinity. – Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Short mysterious bursts of radiation picked up by the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales have baffled astronomers for years. But it turns out some, at least, were not intergalactic messages or a new kind of star. Wayward radiation from a microwave oven in a nearby building, released when the door was opened before the countdown finished, was picked up when the dish pointed in a specific direction. Read more


Number 3: 

A self-healing plastic for astronauts

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Future versions of NASA’s Orion crew module, designed to carry astronauts to Mars, could incorporate a self-healing skin to help protect its occupants. – BILL STAFFORD / NASA

On Mars, if your spacesuit is punctured, you’ll almost certainly die – just ask Matt Damon, who stars in The Martian. But if future Mars colonists’ spacesuits were made from a new self-healing material, the terrifying whoosh of escaping oxygen might be just what saves their life. Read more


Number 2: 

Ancient Japanese art boosts solar cell efficiency

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Kirigami, the Japanese art of paper cutting, has inspired a more efficient solar panel design that can track the path of the Sun. – Aaron Lamoureux / Kyusang Lee / Matthew Shlian / Stephen Forrest / Max Shtein / University of Michigan

The ancient Japanese paper-cutting art of kirigami has inspired a simple rooftop solar cell design that can track the Sun across the sky – they capture much more sunlight than conventional panels and look pretty too. Read more


Number 1:

Printed solar cells poised for a breakthrough


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By mass producing silicon wafers in large factories in India (shown) and China, and improving production techniques, manufacturers have dramatically cut the cost of silicon solar cells – DHIRAJ SINGH / BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES

In one hour the Sun sends enough energy to the Earth to power civilisation for a year – if only we could capture it. More than 50 years after entering the market, costly silicon solar cells remain our leading solar technology. Could two cheap contenders finally topple silicon from its rooftop perch? Read more

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