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So you want to be a wizard?

Hogwarts acceptance letter lost in the owl post? Never fear! Consider, instead, a career in condensed matter physics and materials science!

Particle physics boasts the most terror-inspiring experiments and astronomy has the prettiest pictures, but the branch of physics that best fulfills Arthur C. Clarke's oft-quoted statement that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" has got to be condensed matter physics. A condensed matter physicist once told me that his field was a lot like cooking—depending on what ingredients, and how much of them, you throw into the pot, you can get really different results. To put his statement in more concrete terms, swap "pot" for the experimental setup below:

But he's absolutely right. Also known as materials science, this field focuses on the truly weird behavior you can get from just the right ingredients: superconductivity, massless electrons, bendy electronics, and, one of my favorites, orange, Gak-esque gel that goes rigid when hit. You can also thank condensed-matter physicists for your computer and your sweet new flat-panel LCD. Worried about the future of renewable energy? Condensed matter physicists are hot on the trail of super-efficient solar panels and materials for hydrogen storage.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Solar panels are all very nice, but where's my invisibility cloak?" Don't worry, they're working on that too. New Scientist reports the latest advance toward Hogwarts-tech: a carpet that hides bumps. Thanks to a material that reflects light evenly instead of casting a shadow, nobody will bat an eye at that mysterious lump in the rug. (I leave possible applications to your imagination.)

On the topic of "magic" fabrics, Popular Science announces something I would never have thought up: camera pants! Sort of. Researchers have fabricated threads embedded with fiber-optic sensors that would transmit what they "see" back to a computer, creating an image. If R&D goes forward on this one, I might actually become interested in knitting.
And that's just today's news, folks; there's a whole lot more out there to learn about. For a great roundup of some of the weird and wonderful things materials scientists are exploring, click on the hilariously posed photo below! And remember, if you've ever wanted to work with magic, consider a career in physics.


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