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Volume 485 Issue 7397, 10 May 2012

Crack propagation is usually associated with materials failure, and as such is to be avoided. In the right place, however, crack formation can be useful. A team based in South Korea has developed a technique that harnesses crack initiation, propagation and termination to create patterns in a silicon nitride thin film deposited on top of a silicon substrate. Nam et al. introduce into the substrate notches that concentrate stress to initiate cracks spontaneously during deposition; they also define three modes of crack propagation and prepare multistep structures in the silicon substrate to terminate propagation at specific locations. They even bend cracks in a way that resembles the refraction of light. This concept opens up new possibilities for nanofabrication and patterning using fracture mechanics in applications such as nanotechnology and micro-scale fluidic devices. The cover image shows a structure etched into a silicon substrate using the technique.


  • Editorial |

    International development experts say that the Millennium Villages Project's claims of progress should be interpreted with caution.

  • Editorial |

    Rothamsted's genetically engineered wheat should be allowed to grow.

  • Editorial |

    The latest mission to Jupiter highlights the benefits and pitfalls of collaboration.

World View

  • World View |

    Evidence is mounting that research is riddled with systematic errors. Left unchecked, this could erode public trust, warns Daniel Sarewitz.

    • Daniel Sarewitz

Research Highlights

Seven Days

  • Seven Days |

    The week in science: Japan switches off its last nuclear power reactor; South Korea passes carbon-trading laws; and French-Algerian physicist Adlène Hicheur is sentenced to prison for plotting terror attacks.



News Feature

  • News Feature |

    Old collections of irradiated tissues could answer modern-day questions about the dangers of radiation. Now, researchers are making a concerted effort to save the stores.

    • Alison Abbott
  • News Feature |

    Clouds and aerosol particles have bedevilled climate modellers for decades. Now researchers are starting to gain the upper hand.

    • Jeff Tollefson


  • Comment |

    Recycling plutonium is dangerous and costly. Britain should take the lead on direct disposal, say Frank von Hippel, Rodney Ewing, Richard Garwin and Allison Macfarlane.

    • Frank von Hippel
    • Rodney Ewing
    • Allison Macfarlane

Books & Arts

  • Books & Arts |

    Media designer Scott Snibbe creates software apps and interactive science-museum installations, and was executive producer of the 2011 Biophilia project by singer–songwriter Björk. As he prepares to lecture at the Sónar International Festival of Advanced Music and New Media Art in São Paulo, Brazil — where his visuals will accompany Björk's performance of Biophilia — he talks about provoking wonder.

    • Jascha Hoffman


News & Views Forum

  • News & Views Forum |

    A meta-analysis of agricultural systems shows that organic yields are mostly lower than those from conventional farming, but that organic crops perform well in some contexts. Agricultural scientists discuss whether the conclusions of the study should change farming practices and management. See Letter p.229

    • John P. Reganold
    • Achim Dobermann


News & Views

  • News & Views |

    Crack propagation in materials is rarely welcome. But carefully engineered cracks produced during the deposition of a film on silicon can be used to efficiently create pre-designed patterns of nanometre-scale channels. See Letter p.221

    • Antonio J. Pons
  • News & Views |

    High blood pressure can damage heart muscle cells and their mitochondrial organelles. DNA from degraded mitochondria has been shown to trigger inflammation leading to heart failure. See Letter p.251

    • Klitos Konstantinidis
    • Richard N. Kitsis
  • News & Views |

    Climate simulations based on an ocean model may hold the key to understanding why existing climate models have failed to deliver a clear picture of ocean circulation during the last ice age.

    • Jochem Marotzke
  • News & Views |

    The use of adult-tissue stem cells to treat gastrointestinal diseases holds much promise. A method for in vitro growth of gut stem cells and their use in repairing damaged intestines in mice has been described.

    • Anisa Shaker
    • Deborah C. Rubin
  • News & Views |

    When a star wanders too close to a giant black hole, it can be pulled apart by the black hole's tidal force. One such event offers insight into the properties of both the black hole and the star.

    • Giuseppe Lodato

Review Article




  • Column |

    Graduate students and postdocs are often best placed to turn basic research into entrepreneurial gold, argues Peter Fiske.

    • Peter Fiske

Career Brief

  • Career Brief |

    European student group calls for funding to support mobility.

  • Career Brief |

    Agreement to improve UK research careers yields some positives.

  • Career Brief |

    Technology-transfer model best for inventors who need commercialization support.


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