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Cross sections of polar bear hair and biomimetic fibre

The insulating structures of a polar-bear hair (left) and a fibre mimicking it (right) are clearly visible under a scanning electron microscope. Credit: Y. Cui et al./Adv. Mater.

Materials science

A thermal-invisibility cloak spun from silk and ice

Artificial fibre inspired by polar-bear hair confers superior insulation.

The thick pelt that helps polar bears to survive frigid Arctic winters has inspired a warm, sturdy fibre.

The core of a polar-bear hair consists of a sponge-like network of hollows, which help to make it a superb insulator. To imitate this structure, a team lead by Hao Bai of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, devised a syringe that extrudes silk molecules mixed with water to form a fibre. The fibres are then chilled to create ice crystals between the silk particles. Next, the ice is driven off, leaving behind a core riddled with internal voids.

The researchers wove blankets from the material and wrapped them around rabbits. The blankets provided such efficient insulation that heat-sensing devices were unable to detect the rabbits’ warm bodies. Materials that confer such thermal invisibility could have both industrial and military applications.

More Research Highlights...

Pulsar wind nebula illustration

Curving purple lines in this artist’s impression represent the magnetic field of a neutron star (white sphere) left over from a brilliant supernova. Credit: Salvatore Orlando/INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo

Astronomy and astrophysics

X-rays expose a clue to the mystery of the missing neutron star

Astronomers might have spotted the long-sought debris of a famous stellar explosion.
A bone fragment next to a dime

A bone fragment excavated in Southeast Alaska belonged to one of the earliest known domestic dogs in the Americas. Credit: Douglas Levere/University at Buffalo

Genomics

An ancient Alaskan dog’s DNA hints at an epic shared journey

To scientists’ surprise, a 10,000-year-old bone found in an Alaskan cave belonged to a domestic dog — one of the earliest known from the Americas.
Emissions billow from smokestacks at a coal-fired power plant as the sun sets, India.

Black carbon emitted by power plants and other sources in Asia wafts to the Arctic, where the pollution accelerates the melting of ice and snow. Credit: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg/Getty

Atmospheric science

Soot from Asia travels express on a highway to the high Arctic

Black carbon from fuel combustion in South Asia bolsters the effects of climate change on northern ice and snow.
Prevotella copri bacteria, computer illustration

The gut bacterium Prevotella copri (artist’s impression) has been linked to a reduction in the health benefits of a diet that skimps on red meat in favour of fish and vegetables. Credit: Kateryna Kon/Science Photo Library

Microbiology

Trying a Mediterranean diet? Gut microbes might sway the outcome

The composition of a person’s microbiome could influence the health effects of swapping steak for vegetables and olive oil.
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