Michael Schirber is a freelance science writer in Lyon, France.
The Millikan oil drop experiment, published in final form in 1913, demonstrated that charge comes in discrete chunks and was a bridge between classical electromagnetism and modern quantum physics.
Salt crystallizing on walls or old artifacts forms in discrete bunches, rather than coating the surface, because of an unexpected feedback effect, according to experiments and simulations.
Gaskets and other seals can stop leaks even if the leak-preventing surfaces have just 42 percent of their area in contact at the microscopic scale, according to computer simulations.
Internal stress in a glass material is an important source of strength. Theory and experiments provide a new molecular-scale understanding of the process by which such stress develops.
Quantum mechanics permits particles to follow bizarre, looping and curving trajectories, usually with very low probability. But a calculation shows that in some cases, these paths can have significant and possibly measurable effects.
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry recognizes the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy. Much of this field can be traced back to the first detection of single molecules in solids.
Powerful stellar explosions may have caused mass extinctions on Earth and could also have prevented life from appearing on other planets until 5 billion years ago—and then only in the outskirts of galaxies.