In some day, human can travel by flying car, can see in the dark and discover the mystery of quantum world… This month’s coolest things, which brings you recent highlights from our column, are a trip back to the future.

Building A Better Scanner

Photon-counting CT scanners. Image: GE

A team of GE’s scientists and engineers at Prismatic Sensors AB have developed a revolutionary new way to capture and analyze X-rays that promises to significantly boost the imaging power of computed tomography (CT) scanners.

Computed tomography scanners use X-rays to make cross-sectional images of the body, slicing it virtually like a loaf of bread and enabling physicians to, for instance, spot a tumor. But CT scanners can run up against limitations, such as resolution and radiation dose — and that’s where photon-counting CT scanners could make a difference.

Using hypersensitive silicon X-ray detectors and a technique called “photon counting”, the new method can potentially let doctors see deep inside the human body with greater clarity while exposing patients to less radiation than conventional CT scans.

Power Trip

A mixture of concrete and recycled magnetic particles called ferrite could one day be used to build roadways with “dynamic charging” capabilities. Image credit: Magment GmbH.

Purdue University and the state of Indiana are developing a section of highway with special magnetic concrete that charges electric vehicles (EVs) as they drive.

EVs are gaining traction as a way to cut carbon emissions in the fight against climate change. But plentiful charging solutions are crucial to keeping them rolling. “As electric vehicles become more widely used, demand for reliable, convenient charging infrastructure continues to grow, and the need to innovate is clear,” said Joe McGuinness, Indiana’s Department of Transportation commissioner.

The magnetizable concrete at the heart of the project was developed by German startup Magment GmbH. Its product, MagPad, combines concrete with recycled ferrite — a ceramic-like material formed from iron oxide and other metals. Metal coils embedded in the MagPad create a focused magnetic field, which transfers energy wirelessly to receiver coils installed on EVs. In addition to highway installations, Magment says its technology also works well in floors in industrial buildings.

2D Or Not 2D

An atomically thin zinc-oxide layer “doped” with cobalt atoms could open doors for quantum research. Illustration credit: Berkeley Lab. Top image credit: Getty Images.

Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley created an ultrathin magnet that could be used at room temperature for computing devices and quantum physics tools.

State-of-the-art 2D magnets have potential in high-tech applications like data centers and quantum computing. But they work only at low temperatures, which limits commercial use. “Our 2D magnet is not only the first that operates at room temperature or higher, but it is also the first magnet to reach the true 2D limit: It’s as thin as a single atom!” said Jie Yao, a Berkeley Lab scientist and senior author of the group’s study, published in Nature Communications.

Researchers created the magnet from a solution of graphene oxide, zinc and cobalt. A few hours in the oven cemented a unique structure: a zinc-oxide layer just one atom thick, with a sprinkle of cobalt atoms between graphene layers. Then they burned away the graphene, leaving the superthin zinc-oxide “doped” with cobalt. “Our atomically thin magnet offers an optimal platform for probing the quantum world,” Yao said. “It opens up every single atom for examination, which may reveal how quantum physics governs… the interactions between them.” Now that’s dope.

Out Of The Darkness

“We have made the invisible visible,” said Rocio Camacho Morales, lead researcher on a new study that developed an ultrathin night-vision film. Image credit: Jamie Kidston/The Australian National University.

Australian researchers came up with an inexpensive ultrathin film that could lead to a new generation of night vision devices for the masses.

The film is “extremely lightweight, cheap and easy to mass produce,” according to The Australian National University (ANU), which participated in the research. That means it could one day be accessible to everyday users for common activities like driving at night. The technology would be especially welcome for soldiers and police officers, for whom heavy night vision goggles often cause serious neck strain.

The team made the film from special nanoscale crystals hundreds of times thinner than a human hair. Researchers arranged many of these crystals into an array, forming a super-thin film. When it is hit with a simple laser, the film converts the photons, or light particles, from infrared light — normally invisible to the human eye — into higher-energy particles on the visible spectrum. The team, which published its findings in the journal Advanced Photonics, hopes the film could be applied to standard eyeglasses in the future, bringing night vision to everyone.

We Were Promised Flying Cars — And Now We Have Them

The creator of the AirCar prototype completed a 35-minute flight over Slovakia, then drove it off the runway and into town. Image credit: Klein Vision.

An R&D firm successfully took a flying car on a 35-minute flight between airports in Slovakia.

It’s pretty cool, and it could be a new business. “There are about 40,000 orders of aircraft in the United States alone,” Anton Zajac, a co-founder and adviser at Klein Vision, which developed the AirCar told BBC News. “If we convert 5% of those, to change the aircraft for the flying car — we have a huge market.”

The AirCar, which one avionics expert described as “the lovechild of a Bugatti Veyron and a Cessna 172,” uses a 160-horsepower BMW engine with regular gasoline to power a fixed propeller that sits behind the driver. The vehicle can carry two passengers and fly at a cruising speed of 118 miles per hour, at an altitude of 8,200 feet, with a range of 600 miles. It takes just over two minutes for the wings to unfold for a runway takeoff.